The Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation believes that our state is best-served when people are civically engaged in their communities and actively participate in government. One piece of participation and engagement is voting. This year, North Carolina saw a significant overhaul of its voting laws, and the Foundation wants to ensure that the people of our state have access to information about these changes so they can be informed voters and citizens.
This summer, H589 (officially abbreviated as “VIVA/Election Reform”) was signed into law. Originally solely a voter ID bill, the bill’s final form drew from seven other significant election bills (H185, H451, H913, S82, S428, S666, and S721). While the voter ID portion has arguably received the greatest public attention, the law contains numerous provisions that constitute historic electoral reform. A quick reference chart follows, with more detailed information on key provisions below.
|July 1, 2013
Elimination of 3 public financing programs: Judicial Elections Fund, Political Parties Financing Fund, and Voter-Owned Elections Fund
|September 1, 2013
|Elimination of preregistration for 16-17 year olds
|January 1, 2014
|January 1, 2016
|Voter ID requirements
Starting January 1, 2016, the law requires that voters show a government-issued photo ID at the polling station. Approved IDs include a North Carolina driver’s license, state identification card, passport, military ID card, veteran’s card or tribal enrollment card. (College student IDs, NC county and municipal government IDs, public employee IDs, photo IDs issued by public assistance agencies, and any expired ID, except for voters older than 70, are not acceptable. Out-of-state driver’s licenses only count if the voter registers at least 90 days before the election.) Absentee voters, however, may vote without an ID. People without an acceptable photo ID can apply for a free photo ID by providing the DMV with proof of age and identity, Social Security number, and residence. Before 2016, the State Board of Elections will reach out to voters without acceptable IDs that they identify through a questionnaire available at poll stations and online. Currently, the NC State Board of Elections reports more than 318,000 registered voters (out of 6.4 million total NC voters) do not have a driver’s license or NCDMV identity card; 138,000 of those voters voted in the 2012 general election. Black voters are disproportionately represented in this group; they represent 23% of all registered voters and 34% of registered voters without ID (as well as 36% of the 138,000 2012 voters).
The law repeals pre-registration for 16 and 17-year-olds, ends same-day registration, and shortens the early voting period from 17 days to 10 days, though local election boards must maintain the same number of voting hours. In addition, the law eliminates straight-party ticket voting, requires unanimous votes of county boards of elections to create satellite polling place plans for elderly or disabled voters, and repeals NC’s state-sponsored registration drive, which has occurred biennially since 1984. Counties may no longer offer voting past 1 PM the last Saturday before Election Day; nor can they stay open an hour later on Election Day in response to extraordinary circumstances. The law also permits any registered voter of the county (rather than just the precinct) to challenge another voter’s legality and empowers county political party chairs to appoint up to 10 precinct observers. If a voter votes in the wrong precinct, his or her vote will not count, regardless of whether his or her precinct has changed since the last election. Post the 2011 redistricting, two million, or 27 percent, of NC’s eligible voters currently live in “split precincts;” black voters are 50 percent more likely than white voters to live in a split precinct.
Public Financing Elimination
Starting July 1, 2013, the new regulations eliminated three state public financing programs: the Judicial Elections Fund, the Political Parties Financing Fund, and the Voter-Owned Elections Fund. The first provided state funding for Supreme Court and Court of Appeals candidates. 77% of the candidates who ran for competitive NC Supreme Court and Court of Appeals races used this program in the 2004, 2006, 2008, and 2010 elections. The second allowed state taxpayers, on their state income tax forms, to redirect $3 from the state’s general revenue fund to one of the state’s three recognized political parties. The third provided public financing funds for State Auditor, Superintendent of Public Instruction, and Commissioner of Insurance candidates.
Under the new law, private campaign donors for judicial candidates may contribute five times more money than previously permitted: $5000 instead of $1000. Additionally, the law increases the maximum private contribution to any candidate from $4000 to $5000 and indexes that limit to rise every two years with inflation. Corporate dollars now also can pay for costs such as personnel, rent, travel, renovation, and utilities at political party headquarters buildings.
Among the changes, campaigns are no longer required to disclose the largest donors for certain campaign ads. In addition, the law repeals the state’s landmark “Stand By Your Ad” law, permitting candidates to pay for ads without publicly stating their approval at the ad’s end.
**Information compiled from legislation, news articles and other sources.