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Tick Tock: Will NC Be Ready for 2016 Presidential Election?

PHOTO: With North Carolina a projected swing state for 2016, analysts are concerned over the unresolved court cases around the state's election law and districts. Photo credit: jdurham/morguefile.com
PHOTO: With North Carolina a projected swing state for 2016, analysts are concerned over the unresolved court cases around the state's election law and districts. Photo credit: jdurham/morguefile.com
June 15, 2015

RALEIGH, N.C. - North Carolina is projected to be a "swing state" by analysts for the 2016 presidential election, yet its election law changes and redistricting still are being challenged in court.

If the 2014 election is any indication, there is cause for concern, according to a Democracy North Carolina report released today that estimates that at least 30,000 voters did not vote in that election because of new voting limitations and polling-place problems.

Report co-author Isela Gutierrez, Democracy North Carolina's research director, said the state needs to take time to make sure the 2016 elections go smoothly.

"We don't want to become a national joke," she said. "We have time now to take the right, proactive action to make sure voting goes smoothly in North Carolina, even if these restrictive new laws are not overturned by the courts."

The state Board of Elections just concluded a series of nine hearings to help educate voters around the state on the voting-law changes, which include the requirement of a state-issued photo ID starting next year and the elimination of straight-ticket voting and out-of precinct voting, which took effect in 2014. Verdicts in the court challenges are expected in the fall, but since appeals are expected, Gutierrez said, the final decisions aren't likely until next year.

Josh Lawson, spokesperson for the state Board of Elections, said his administrative body is practicing "business as usual" and preparing to implement the current laws as they were written.

"We look forward to the outcomes of those trials over the next two months, but we are also preparing for the implementation," he said. "You'll see that the presidential primary will be the first time that we have a run at this implementation, and there will be a number of elections thereafter before we get to November and the time that everybody is watching the state."

The report also found that the ballots of more than 2,300 provisional voters would have counted, at least in part, if same-day registration and out-of precinct voting had still been in place in 2014. Gutierrez said the increased voter turnout expected next year could further complicate the election process.

"Thinking ahead to 2016, which is going to have much larger turnout," she said, "we've got real concerns that unless the State Board of Elections and local county Boards of Elections and even the state General Assembly make some changes and take some proactive action that we're going to see possibly up to 100,000 voters disenfranchised in this upcoming election."

The Democracy North Carolina report recommended that the state implement intensified voter education, training for election officials and increasing of staff at polling places.

The full report is online at demnc.co.

Stephanie Carson, Public News Service - NC