Overview of State Politics-
Traditionally a solid southern red state, North Carolina has, as of late, seen a shift leftward. Republicans carried the state in every presidential election from 1968 to 2004 (with the exception of Jimmy Carter’s election in 1976). But in 2008, it voted for Barack Obama in what was one of his most surprising state victories. Indeed, North Carolina, with Virginia, is considered a new southern swing state.
Its congressional delegation is relatively evenly divided, with one Democratic senator and one Republican senator and seven Democratic members of the House of Representatives to six Republican members. On the state level, government is also divided, with Democrat Bev Perdue holding the governor’s mansion, but Republicans controlling substantial majorities in both the state senate and state house.
This has led to interesting changes in voting law and procedure, or rather, attempted changes. As one would expect for a state with divided government, it has been marked by attempts at voter suppression that have been blocked by the governor.
But beyond the typical story of photo ID requirements, North Carolina has a number of interesting election procedures that make voting slightly easier, and with them, attempts to take such procedures away.
Trying for Photo ID, and the Subsequent 2012 State Election Drama-
In 2011, the General Assembly passed a bill that would have required photo ID. But Governor Bev Perdue, vetoed the legislation.
Photo ID has become a prominent issue in the upcoming gubernatorial election, which pits Democrat Walter Dolton and Republican Pat McCrory. Unsurprisingly, McCrory has said he would sign into law a photo ID requirement if elected. Perhaps what’s more surprising is that while Dolton has said he would not permit a blanket photo ID law, he would support the mandated limited application of some voter identification. Spokesman Schorr Johnson said “Walter Dalton has supported measures to require ID to register to vote and to provide ID at the polls for first-time voters who register by mail.”
But for the 2012 election, voters in North Carolina will be able to vote without presenting identification. What will happen afterwards remains to be seen.
One-Stop Early and Absentee Voting Program and Further Attempts at Suppression-
North Carolina has a form of same-day registration and early voting in its one-stop voting program. This allows any registered voter to cast an in-person absentee ballot on certain days before Election Day. In addition, it allows individuals who missed the registration deadline to register in person and vote at a one-stop absentee voting site during the early-voting period.
North Carolina also permits mail-in absentee ballots. There are no restrictions in North Carolina as to who may vote absentee.
However, in 2011, legislation was introduced in North Carolina to end same-day registration and early in-person voting. It failed to become law.
2010 Implementation of a Pre-Registration Program-
In 2010, a new law took effect in North Carolina which permitted 16 and 17-year olds to pre-register to vote. North Carolina requires election officials to hold annual voter registration drives in high schools.
In addition, 17-year olds may vote in a primary if they will turn 18 by the general election.
Voter Registration Drives-
North Carolina has few restrictions or requirements on who may conduct voter registration drives. No licensing is required, no training is necessary, and the group is not required to register as a political action committee. Failure, however, to submit registration forms at least 25 days before the election can be punished as a class 2 misdemeanor.
Furthermore, the state requires that the board of elections makes voter application forms available throughout the state for distribution to government and private organizations. It places a particularly strong emphasis on making such forms available for voter registration drives.
Failed Electoral Reform-
Similarly, North Carolina has had several failed efforts to liberalize its electoral proceedings. A 2009 bill called the Electoral Freedom Act, which aimed to reduce the number of signatures necessary for a third party or unaffiliated candidate to gain ballot access was introduced to the state legislature, but died. A second 2011 bill with similar aims faced a similar fate.
Voting Rights Act and Pre-clearance-
Much of North Carolina is covered by the Voting Rights Act of 1965’s preclearance provisions. But North Carolina is one a few states with currently challenging aspects of the law in courts.
For example, in 2008, the town of Kingston, North Carolina attempted to move towards nonpartisan elections, but was blocked by the Justice Department, which found it would reduce the power of black voters. The city sued, and even though the Justice Department reversed its decision and a federal appeals court in Washington through out the suit, Nix v. Holder, and the city’s challenge to section five of the Voting Rights Act, is now before the Supreme Court.
In North Carolina, felons are disenfranchised, and voting rights are not restored until the completion of prison, parole, and probation.
Instant Runoff Voting: Testing New Election Techniques-
North Carolina, in 2007, tested instant runoff voting in an election in Cary, North Carolina. Instant runoff voting allows voters to mark their first, second, and third choice candidates in a race, allowing for an instant runoff if a runoff is needed.
In 2010, they utilized it for a statewide judicial election. It is the first state to do so in a statewide election.
Voting Equipment and Help America Vote Act Problems-
Like many other states, North Carolina has had its fair share of problems with electronic voting machines. In Craven County, for example, a voter reported that for four consecutive tries, a voting machine misread his ballot in the 2010 election. He needed to have election workers come over and help him with the machine to have his ballot correctly read.
In addition, efforts to utilize Help America Vote Act funds have run into partisan issues. While this year, the state House of Representatives was able to allocate the state money that was necessary to unfreeze the $4 million dollars in HAVA funds, the state Senate has yet to follow it’s lead. Republican lawmakers have protested and questioned the need for and use of federal funds.
Text of Entire State Election Law-
Election laws are available here: