New report finds many North Carolina voting practices exemplary, others still could use improvement

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  • Dale Eisman

Mary Boyle, Common Cause, (202) 736-5770

Tim Rusch, Demos, (212) 389-1407

User friendly voter registration laws, strong protections against deceptive practices, effective compliance with National Voter Registration Act draw praise

Washington, DC — A new report finds that North Carolina’s election laws and practices are at the top of the list compared to other “swing states” in this year’s mid-term elections. According to the report, “Voting in 2010: Ten Swing States,” North Carolina law streamlines voter registration by allowing voters to register to vote during the early voting period, allows for fair counting of provisional ballots, and prohibits misinformation campaigns designed to confuse voters and suppress the vote. North Carolina also now has exemplary compliance with the National Voter Registration Act. With a number of U.S. House races in the “toss up” category and control of the state legislature in flux, these election laws could help ensure that the winners of North Carolina’s elections are the true choices of state voters, the report finds.

The report by election watchdogs Common Cause and Demos also reviews voting laws and policies in Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, and Ohio.

“In 2008, North Carolina instituted Same Day Registration (SDR) resulting in the biggest increase in voter turnout in the country,” said Tova Wang, Senior Democracy Fellow at Demos and author of the report. “We look forward to the state demonstrating the success of SDR again this year in maximizing participation and leading the way in many other areas as well.”

“The stakes are high this year with the struggle for power in the state legislature at a tipping point,” said Bob Phillips, director of Common Cause North Carolina. “The rules of the game need to be fair and need to be enforced. Our report shows that North Carolina is doing well in many areas but there is also room for improvement.”

The report examines problematic voting areas including registration, ID issues (which can present burdens to those who don’t hold traditional identification such as a driver’s license), provisional ballots, voter suppression and deception tactics, caging and challenge laws, voting by overseas and military voters, and challenges for new citizens and ethnic minorities. A summary chart evaluates each state’s practices, and a set of recommendations is offered for improvement of these voting procedures.

For North Carolina, the study highlights several exemplary voting laws and procedures which other states would do well to emulate.

The voter registration deadline is 25 days prior to the election. Qualified individuals who miss the registration deadline may register in-person and cast a ballot at “one-stop” voting sites at any time between 19 days before the election and 1:00 pm on the Saturday before the election.

State agencies are working effectively under an implementation plan developed by the State Board of Elections in cooperation with voting rights advocates in 2007 to increase voter registration at public assistance agencies.

There are no state-imposed voter ID laws – North Carolina voters are governed by the federal statute covering first-time voters only.

A strong law prohibits misinformation campaigns designed to confuse voters and suppress the vote

Provisional ballots cast in the correct county but wrong precinct will be counted for relevant races.

The State Board of Elections has worked with the Department of Corrections to design information on voter registration that is distributed along with a registration form to every discharged felon at the time of discharge.

On the downside, there are still some notable obstacles to full voter participation.

The state’s voter challenge law is too expansive: any registered voter in a county may challenge a voter up to the 25th day before an election; any individual registered to vote in a precinct may challenge any voter at his or her precinct on Election Day. North Carolina does not appear to require that challenges on Election Day be made in written form or recorded.

Voting rights for citizens who have finished a prison sentence are not restored until that individual has completed parole or probation.

Although North Carolina is not legally obliged to conduct outreach to language minorities, many state communities have substantial Spanish-speaking citizen populations and may face such a requirement in the near future. Election administrators in these jurisdictions reportedly do little to reach out to these voters.

Prior to the election, to address these problems, election officials can:

Ensure citizens receive information on the ramifications of frivolous, fraudulent or discriminatory vote caging and challenges.

Work with community organizations to conduct more voter outreach to immigrant and language minority voters and post voting information and materials on the website in Spanish as soon as possible.