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Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Primary Offers a Glimpse of Voter Problems

Posted by on Wed, Mar 16, 2016 at 6:05 PM

On Tuesday, North Carolina saw its highest primary turnout in history, but that didn't mean all N.C. voters had such an easy time exercising their right to vote.

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Democracy NC, a Durham-based voter rights organization, said that a voter hotline set up at the UNC School of Law fielded over 1,000 calls between early voting and Election Day, seeking assistance on a whole range of problems, ranging from last-minute polling place changes to confusion surrounding the first application of the state's new voter ID law. "Based on voter turnout and the number of calls we get during the average general election," said communications director Jen Jones, "It's safe to say that a high proportion of voters were impacted by new voting laws." 

"When some voters from marginalized communities went to vote," said Jones, "they were met with a lot of confusion at the polls, including new voting rules and confusion from poll officials tasked with assisting them." 

College students all over the state were turned away at the polls yesterday. In Watauga County, home to Appalachian State University, Democracy NC executive director Bob Hall said that voter disenfranchisement seemed to be happening on purpose. "Watauga is a poster child for bad practices," he said. And at a precinct in Chapel Hill - Chapel of the Cross on Franklin St. - he said that the precinct suffered from inadequate preparation and poor management. "They misinterpreted the rules," he said.

Native Americans were disproportionately affected as well. Although Native Americans represent less than 1% of the vote in North Carolina, they made up 5.6% of the provisional ballots cast as of Sunday, many from Robeson County in the southern part of the state. Hall said that this was partially due to a misunderstanding of the information needed on a tribal enrollment card in order for it to be considered an acceptable form of ID. 

"The word may have gotten out that [any tribal ID] was acceptable, but it turns out that it needed a photograph and an expiration date. Some that were issued some years ago don’t have one or both features,” Hall said. 

Hall said that some of the longest lines in the state were in Durham County, with some precincts closing at 9 or 9:30, two hours after they were supposed to. One voter in Durham County who contacted the hotline had voted at the same polling place for 30 straight years, but was missing from the voter rolls and had to go to the Board of Elections to cast a non-provisional ballot, where she waited for 45 minutes. "The preparation, staffing, equipment, and training were not up to the task," Hall said. 

If yesterday's primary caused a lot of problems, it's likely that the general election could be even worse. “It’s very worrisome," Hall said. "It’s not like there was a super big turnout, but it was enough to stress the system out in certain places." 

"The election administrators need to do a much better job preparing for a bigger group of voters, some of whom aren’t educated about the process."

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