New Voting Rules Protect Sacred Right

By Rep. David R. Lewis

As it appeared in the Greensboro News & Record Sunday Edition May 18, 2014

Voting is among our most sacred rights. The ability to come together as a society, to make our voices heard by casting our respective ballots, and to have confidence our votes count equally with those cast by our fellow citizens 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 and move our election system closer to the mainstream of states throughout the nation.

First, we passed a requirement that by 2016 most voters will need to present photo identification to poll workers to make it easier to verify they are who they say they are. This common-sense reform will aid poll workers and election officials in making sure the person standing before them is the person rightfully registered to cast that vote.

While we know nearly everyone has a photo ID, we also put provisions in the law to provide an ID — free of charge — to registered voters who may not have one, and we allowed more than two years for voters without an ID to get one. Further, the N.C. Board of Elections and Division of Motor Vehicles are working diligently to make sure all voters are aware of the requirement and have what they need to fully participate in our democratic process.

Although many politically motivated accusations have been lobbed against the idea that people should be easily able to prove they are who they say they are by showing a photo ID, absolutely no one across the country has been successfully able to prove that the requirement to show an ID prevented them from voting. Our election system is important, and taking precautions against the potential for abuse and lessening the opportunity for mistakes by poll workers mean each of our votes is treated fairly and equally.

Other common-sense improvements added to our election process include allowing our citizens to vote up to 10 days prior to Election Day. While 30 states lack any traditional early voting, North Carolina offers 10 days.

After studying the patterns of citizens voting early, we are confident that these days will offer an adequate opportunity for all citizens wishing to vote early to do so. Many counties, like my own, have opened additional early voting sites to make voting more accessible to all citizens.

And, since our goal is to provide equal access to the polls to all people, we required that all early voting sites within a county be open the same days and hours. Our efforts appear to be working as we witnessed an increase in individuals who voted early in the May 6 primary election — compared to the previous midterm election, 2010; overall turnout increased as well.

We did end the questionable process of allowing people to register and vote the same day because there was no way to verify those people had registered to vote properly before their votes were actually counted in the election. Does it not make sense, if we require registration, to allow time to make sure the registration is valid?

We also asked the state board to compare our voter rolls with those of other states. I am willing to bet most reading this have received the same email or identical sales flier from a sender. No matter how hard election officials may work to prevent it, some voter registrations are inaccurate, improperly recorded, or not removed when they should be. Shouldn’t we take the common-sense approach and compare our voter rolls with those of other states just to make sure?

Of course, such cross-checks of lists should be done. Now they are being investigated further. And yes, it may be only coincidence that exact matches of an individual’s first and last names, birthdate and the last four digits of his Social Security number have been discovered registered to vote in both our state and another. But it’s certainly worth further investigation to make sure people aren’t diluting your vote and mine by voting more than once.

We made other important changes, too. For example, we ended the practice of using tax dollars to support political campaigns and political parties; we prevented lobbyists from handling campaign contributions; and we made sure voters are fully exercising their right to vote by preventing voting out of precinct — except, of course, at the properly equipped early voting sites.

All in all, the changes passed last year should give all voters more confidence in our election system. It bears repeating: We want every voter to have equal access to the polls and to be fully able to participate in the election process equally. One person. One vote.

Open and transparent elections lead to a stronger society and more confidence in our government.

Rep. David Lewis, a Republican from Harnett County, is chairman of the N.C. House of Representatives Election Law Committee and co-chairman of the Joint Legislative Elections Oversight Committee.

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