Voting is among our most sacred rights. The ability to come together as a society, to make our voices heard and to have the confidence our votes count equally is a cornerstone of our republic.
To improve the real and perceived integrity of our election system, North Carolina adopted voting rules that better guarantee the protection of all citizens’ rights.
These rules were before the U.S. District Court recently in Winston-Salem. At the hearing, attorneys for the state made the case for why these reforms are common sense and move North Carolina in line with the rest of the nation on election administration and procedure. We are confident that these reforms allowing all citizens equal participation in electing the candidates of their choice will be upheld by the court and the politically motivated claims brought by liberal advocacy groups will be rejected. Further, we are confident these reforms will encourage increased voter participation and confidence in our election system.
The issues at the hearings focused on the reduction of early voting days from a possible maximum of 17 days to 10 days, the elimination of same-day registration, the elimination of a statute allowing voters to vote on Election Day in a precinct other than their assigned precinct, and the pre-registration of 16- and 17-year-olds who would not be 18 years old by the next general election. In fact, North Carolina was the only state with all the aforementioned practices in 2012.
Despite the claims of the plaintiffs and their paid political scientists that the new law will “suppress the black vote,” the plaintiffs in Winston-Salem and their experts admitted that they have no evidence that the elimination of these practices will reduce African American registration numbers or turnout in future elections. The recent primary election also dispelled any notion of suppression as African American participation in both early voting and overall turnout increased as compared with the most comparable election — the May 2010 primary.
North Carolina’s current early voting law, giving voters the opportunity to vote 10 days before Election Day, is consistent with the early voting practices allowed by other states, and places us squarely in the middle of all 50 states on this issue. On the issue of same-day registration, the U.S. Congress and Supreme Court approved registration laws that close the registration books 25 days before an election. Only 16 states allow out-of-precinct voting and only eight states allow pre-registration of 16- and 17-year-olds. As you can see, election law and administration in North Carolina is clearly comparable with other states in providing equal access to the polls.
Why were the changes needed? Thousands of same-day registration voters provided unverifiable information about their residence and could not be verified by the board of elections, but had their votes counted in numerous elections. Similar applicants for registration who registered 25 days or more before the election and then failed the mail-verification process were not allowed to vote, much less have a false ballot counted.
Former State Board of Elections Director Gary Bartlett conceded at trial that the North Carolina voter rolls are inflated by tens of thousands of alleged registered voters who have not voted in years — a reality that spurred the current Board of Elections to investigate. The findings? Over 700 people with the same name, date of birth and the last four digits of their social security numbers voted in North Carolina and another state in the 2012 general election.
The General Assembly had ample evidence that same-day registration, out-of-precinct voting and pre-registration of teens before they are eligible to vote threatened the integrity of the elections process and caused unnecessary and counterproductive burdens on the administration of elections.
The practices this General Assembly passed are not unusual or draconian, as the plaintiffs would have you believe, because they are the traditional practices followed by a majority of all other jurisdictions. Most importantly, the plaintiffs admitted that they have no evidence whatsoever that eliminating the practices they favor, and returning North Carolina to the mainstream, will decrease black registration or turnout.
Under the new rules, all voters will have an equal opportunity to vote, without regard to race, financial means or educational background. One person. One vote. Open and transparent elections lead to a stronger society and increased confidence in our government.
State Rep. David Lewis of Harnett County is chairman of the N.C. House Election Law Committee.