With the May 6 primary election quickly approaching, voting rights advocates and candidates alike are scrambling to make sure that voters are empowered – and inspired – to hit the polls and make their voices heard.
A bevy of changes are slated to take effect this election cycle, but the controversial voter ID measure is not one of them; it won’t be enacted until 2016.
The registration period has already closed for those who wish to vote in the primary, and same day voter registration will no longer be offered at Early Voting locations under the new laws.
The voter registration deadline for the Nov. 4 General Election is set for Tuesday, Oct. 10. Straight party voting is now a thing of the past, and candidates belonging to the party of the sitting governor will now be listed first in every race. The General Election early voting period has also been cut from 17 days to 10, and teens are not allowed to pre-register unless they will turn 18 before the Nov. 4.
Board of Elections member Fleming El-Amin says he is concerned that local voters will be discouraged from voting either because they are confused or intimidated by the new legislation.
“My overall concern has been are the citizens really aware of the changes,” El-Amin stated, noting that he insisted that information about the new laws be posted on the Board of Elections Web site and at every precinct location. “… As far as I’m concerned, there’s not enough education being done to inform the citizens.”
Regulations regarding voter challenges, provisional and absentee ballots will also go into effect this year, El-Amin said. According to the new laws, state-issued forms are now the only accepted absentee ballots, whereas letters or notecards were previously allowed, and the ballots must be signed in the proper location in the presence of two witnesses or a notary public.
The Board of Elections rejected nine absentee ballots at its last meeting because they did not meet the new requirements, El-Amin said.
State issued identification, such as a drivers license or identification card, will not be required at the polls until the 2016 election cycle, however officials will be asking voters whether they have an approved ID to determine if they are eligible to obtain a free one from the state for the purposes of voting in 2016.
Susan Campbell, president of the Forsyth County Democratic Party, says the laws are a source of frustration for the party and other groups that are interested in getting out the vote.
“We want people to vote,” she said. “We need to stop putting up those barriers for people to vote. It’s hard enough to get them to pay attention.”
Voting rights advocates have decried the laws from the beginning, saying that they were designed to further disenfranchise poor and minority voters. The State of North Carolina is currently embroiled in two separate lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the laws.
Democracy NC is part of a collaborative group of nonpartisan organizations that have joined forces to take action through an education and awareness event designed to inform area voters about the voting laws the North Carolina General Assembly has enacted. “My Vote, My Power,” which is slated for Saturday, April 26 at Rupert Bell Park, will be a chance for voters to interact with local and state candidates, get informed about voting laws, and ensure that they have the tools and information they need to vote in the upcoming primary and general election, organizers say.
“We’re just trying to get the word out so people will be more knowledgeable about candidates,” said Linda Sutton, a Democracy NC field organizer. “We had so many people in the past that actually depended on straight party voting … now, you really need to know who you’re voting for.”
The Ministers Conference of Winston-Salem and Vicinity is also among the partners hosting the event, which will feature prizes, free refreshments, and plenty of opportunities for constituents to register to vote and interact with state and local candidates. Although the Ministers Conference is nonpartisan, the black church has always played a pivotal role in the fight for social justice, and the ministers continue to do so through their participation in events such as My Vote, My Power, explained Rev. Willard Bass, the organization’s president.
“We thought it would be a good idea to help the citizens know first, the importance of voting, and then knowing who to vote for,” he said. “I think the issues – even locally and statewide – are very critical.”
Bass believes the voting laws disproportionately impact the poor and people of color. He and other Ministers Conference members have traveled to Raleigh on numerous occasions, to lend their support to the chorus of voices calling for change during Moral Monday protests.
“If you’ve been following Moral Monday and what’s been happening with our legislature, all of the bills and action that the legislature has taken have been against the poor and the needy,” he said. “…It’s just contrary to where we need to be, so it’s key, then, for us to be involved as a community, because it behooves us to get involved.”
My Vote, My Power! will be held on Saturday, April 26 from 1-5 p.m. at Rupert Bell Park, 1501 Mt. Zion Place. For more information, contact Sutton at 336-870-2168. For more information about changes in voting laws, visit www.democracy-nc.org.
Early voting will be held April 24-25 and April 28-May 2 from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. and on Saturday, May 3 from 10 a.m.-1 p.m. at the Forsyth County Government Center, 201 North Chestnut Street. Voting at satellite locations (Kernersville Library, Lewisville Library and Rural Hall Library) will be open April 28-29 from 11 a.m.-6 p.m. and April 30-May 1 from 11 a.m.-5 p.m. The primary will be held on Tuesday, May 6. For more information or a full list of voting hours and locations, visit http://www.fcvotes.com.