New Voter Law Could Be Confusing and Expensive
The sweeping changes the General Assembly made in state voting laws this year could be confusing and expensive.
In most cases, voters will have until 2014, or 2016 to become accustomed to the changes that affect registration and identification. Expenses could grow rapidly in 2016 when counties have to pay for two primaries and even more so in 2018 when counties face the requirement for printed ballots.
“For a lot of this, voter education will be needed,” said Guilford County Elections Director Charlie Collicutt, “and staff will have to be trained.”
—Voter Identification: Voters must have an approved government-issued form of photo ID to vote in 2016. Some old IDs will be allowed, but not all. But starting in 2014, poll workers will ask voters if they have a driver’s license, passport, military ID or other qualifying government ID. If not, a voter can sign an affidavit acknowledging that photo ID will be needed in 2016. Elections directors across the state will be looking for specific instructions on which photo IDs to accept and for whom.
“Poll workers will have to look at the age on the identification,” Collicutt said. “An expired identification is allowed for an older person, but not a younger one. It will take a lot of education for voters and the poll workers to learn what is valid.”
Here are the likely remedies for 2016: If a poll worker does not think that an ID photo resembles the voter, three election judges will evaluate it. A unanimous decision has to be made to reject the ID. Voters who do not have photo ID will fill out provisional ballots, which the elections staff members will have to later verify before counting toward the final election tally.
—Early voting: The period will be shortened to 10 days in 2014, but the polls must be opened the same number of hours as in previous mid-term and presidential years.
“It will take a lot of work to work this out to the same number of hours,” Collicutt said. “We may have to add additional voting sites. It’s confusing. It will be fast and furious to get the voting done in not as many days.”
The new law makes rules consistent statewide, said Sen. Jerry Tillman, R-Randolph, the Senate majority whip.
“This lack of consistency creates confusion among voters and increases opportunities for gamesmanship, since local election boards could set longer hours for particular sites to increase partisan participation,” Tillman said. “Counties will continue to have the option to open polls on Sundays.”
—Registration: The measure also ends same-day registration in 2014 and voting so that voters must make any changes 25 days ahead of the election. Voters who went the wrong voting precinct were allowed to vote with a provisional ballot that election officials would consider later. Most get counted if there are no other problems.
“We have had a lot of voters who took advantage of that,” Collicutt said. “We need to make sure people are aware of the registration deadlines. If they show up at the wrong place, they won’t be able to vote. They will have to go to the proper precinct.”
—Straight-Ticket Voting: Allowed since 1925, the voting shortcut was killed starting in 2014.
As many as 25 counties bought hundreds of electronic touch-screen machines in 2008 at about $3,000 each. About 40 percent of voters statewide, and all Guilford County voters, use touch-screen electronic machines which print selections on a backup paper audit roll.
—Paper Ballots: Under the new law, all ballots must be on paper by 2018.
Guilford officials use scanners to read the printed ballots they sent out to military and absentee voters.
“It will cost quite a bit of money if we have to replace all the machines and the software,” Collicutt said. “The scan machines we have use the same software as the electronic machines. We don’t know now what will be out there for us by 2018.”
— Presidential Primary: North Carolina will have an earlier stand-alone presidential primary, set more closely to follow South Carolina’s early primary vote. There would be a separate primary for other races in presidential election years. The cost of both primaries will be absorbed by the state’s 100 counties. A countywide vote in Guilford County costs more than $100,000.
“This will be another possible cost for us,” Collicutt said, “and we will have to train our people for this.”