Voters should be prepared for changes in this year's elections
RALEIGH - A lawsuit challenging North Carolina's controversial new voting law is still ongoing, but a federal judge recently ruled that this year's elections will proceed with that law in effect.
The plaintiffs in the case, which include the League of Women Voters, the North Carolina NAACP and others, were seeking an injunction that would have blocked cuts to early voting and prevented a repeal of same-day voter registration from being implemented until a full trial is held in 2015.
While it typically garners the most attention, the voter ID provision of the new law does not go into effect until 2016. So regardless of the judge's recent decision, voters will not be required to show a photo ID in order to vote this November.
Since the law is already in place and was in effect for the May primary, the judge's ruling simply means that this year's election will be held under the terms of the new law.
Several of the key provisions of the law that are being challenged in the lawsuit, and will now officially be in effect in November, can have a direct impact on how North Carolinians register to vote and cast a ballot.
One of the most significant provisions is the elimination of same-day voter registration. Prior to the new law, citizens in North Carolina could register and vote during the early voting period. Under the new law, anyone wanting to vote in the general election must be registered by the Oct. 10 deadline. In 2012, close to 100,000 citizens took advantage of same-day registration, so there is the real potential that voters could be left out of the process with the new law in place this year.
In addition, the new law shaves a week off the early voting period itself. Before the new law went into effect this year, voters had 17 days of early voting available. This year only 10 days will be offered.
The new law does include a stipulation that counties must offer the same number of hours of early voting as they did in 2010, but compressed into 10 days instead of spread over 17 days. However, as we saw in the primary, many counties are opting out of this provision and choosing to offer fewer hours than they did in 2010.
Another noteworthy aspect of the law that voters should be aware of when heading to the polls this year is that if you vote outside of your assigned precinct your ballot will not be counted. It used to be that if you voted in your home county, but not your home precinct, your vote would still count for all the races in which you would have been eligible to vote in your home precinct. That opportunity was stricken by the new law.
There are numerous other provisions in the law that impact campaigns and elections in North Carolina. While the judge's ruling keeps the law in place for this fall's election, the full lawsuit has yet to be decided and is scheduled to go to trial next year. With voter ID laws being challenged across the country, and some being overturned by the courts, it's not entirely clear what will happen with the pending litigation here in North Carolina.
In the meantime, voters need to be aware of the new requirements to ensure their vote is counted this November. Most notably, anyone wishing to vote should make absolutely sure they are registered by the Oct. 10 deadline. With many important races on the ballot this year, it's vital that all citizens get informed and exercise their right to vote.
(Brent Laurenz is executive director of the N.C. Center for Voter Education and a contributor to TheVoterUpdate.com. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)