News: CJ Exclusives

N.C. Voter Laws Would Remain More Liberal Than In Many States

'Blue' states in Northeast and Midwest deny early voting, no-excuse absentee balloting

The terms “voter suppression” and “outrageous” were bandied about during the recent debate over North Carolina’s voter ID and election law reforms. Editorial boards from Raleigh to New York inveighed against the alleged “intolerance” shown by North Carolina lawmakers’ electoral reforms.

But comparing election laws in North Carolina with those of other states shows that the Tar Heel State has had and — even if Gov. Pat McCrory signs House Bill 589, passed in the legislative session’s closing hours — would continue to maintain fairly liberal access to voting, especially when contrasted with several Northeastern states.

While New York Times editorialists bemoaned what they consider a mean-spirited attitude toward low-income and minority voters from the North Carolina General Assembly, the Empire State’s election laws are more restrictive than ours.

“It shows that a great deal of the criticism, frankly, is without merit,” said Rep. Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, who co-chairs the House Elections Committee.

Brent Laurenz, executive director of the N.C. Center for Voter Education, said that he believed North Carolina’s election laws helped boost voter participation in North Carolina. Laurenz said North Carolina went from being among the 10 worst states in voter participation to being 11th nationally.

“I think some of these laws that are rolled back sort of fostered participation,” Laurenz said.

“Even under the legislation we have now, that simply reduced by a few days of early voting, we have more opportunity for folks to go vote than a big number of other states,” Moore said.

Traditionally blue states such as New York, Massachusetts, and Connecticut don’t allow either early voting or no-excuse absentee voting, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Other states allowing neither include Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Missouri, Kentucky, Virginia, South Carolina, Alabama, and Mississippi.

Minnesota, which doesn’t have early voting, will offer no-excuse absentee voting next year for the first time.

Republicans who proposed the election law changes took heat from Democrats when H.B. 589 cut the number of early voting days from 17 to 10.

The length of early voting varies from state to state. Vermont’s early voting begins 45 days before an election and ends at 5 p.m. the day before an election. In Iowa and Wyoming, early voters can cast ballots 40 days before an election until the day before an election.

Maine allows early voting as soon as absentee ballots are available (30 to 45 days before an election) through Election Day.

Of the states that have early voting, Oklahoma’s is the shortest, beginning the Friday preceding an election and ending at 6 p.m. on the day before an election.

North Carolina Republicans also were criticized for instituting a requirement for voters to produce a state-authorized identity card at polling places. The mandate will be enforced in the 2016 election cycle.

Thirty-three states require some sort of ID before voters can cast a ballot, said Wendy Underhill, senior policy specialist at NCSL. Four — Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, and Tennessee — have strict photo ID requirements, along the lines of H.B. 589.

Eight others — Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, Virginia, and Wisconsin — recently have enacted strict photo ID requirements that have not taken effect.

Those requirements state that voters who do not have an ID at the polls on Election Day may cast a provisional ballot, which would be counted only if the voter can present an authorized ID to an election official within a few days of the election.

While most states allow no-excuse absentee balloting and/or early voting, fewer permit same-day registration — a provision that was repealed in H.B. 589.

One other state, Ohio, allows same-day registration during early voting, Underhill said. Maryland passed legislation this year authorizing same-day early voting registration in 2016.

Eleven states — California, Connecticut, Colorado, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Minnesota, Montana, Hew Hampshire, Wisconsin, and Wyoming — plus the District of Columbia allow same-day registration on Election Day, Underhill said.

North Carolina had been one of 15 states allowing straight-ticket voting — another provision H.B. 589 eliminates. The others are Alabama, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, and West Virginia.

Two states, Oregon and Washington, vote only by absentee ballot.

Barry Smith (@Barry_Smith) is an associate editor of Carolina Journal.