You’ve heard it from the Left. You’ve heard it from the press and on TV. It’s all over the Internet. The Voter Suppression Act. Disenfranchised voters. One of the nation’s most restrictive voter ID laws. Sweeping. Controversial. Restrictive. Fiercely contested. Assault on democracy.
Before the General Assembly convened in January, North Carolina’s voting laws were some of the most liberal in the country. Now that legislators have enacted new election-related laws, they’re still among the most liberal in the country; more liberal than New York’s, for example.
The new voting and elections laws bring us closer in line with the rest of the country. House Bill 589 makes substantive changes to our election laws that many believe will restore integrity and trust in our voting system.
Here’s a recap of what the new law does and where North Carolina lines up nationally (much of this information comes from the National Conference of State Legislatures):
• Voter ID: required. Thirty-three states require voters to present identification at the polls. North Carolina is the 34th and joins a national trend of requiring a photo ID. Two-thirds of North Carolinians asked in several polls favor a government-issued photo ID to vote.
• Straight-ticket voting: no longer allowed. Fourteen states allow straight-party voting. North Carolina joins the 36 states that do not.
• Early voting: fewer days but the same number of hours. Fifteen states allow neither early voting nor no-excuse absentee voting. Thirty-two states have early voting periods ranging from four days to 45 days prior to election day, with an average of 19 days. North Carolina allows 10 days but requires the same number of hours of early voting that were available in 2012 and 2010, when the early voting period was 17 days.
• Same-day registration: no longer allowed during early voting. Only Ohio and North Carolina allowed same-day registration during early voting. Ten states and the District of Columbia allow same-day registration on election day. North Carolina no longer does.
• Pre-registration: no longer allowed for 16- and 17-year-olds. Five states allow 16- and
17-year-olds to register before they turn 18. Forty-five states do not, now including North Carolina.
• Campaign contributions: limited. Fourteen states allow unlimited individual contributions to candidates. North Carolina limits individual contributions to $5,000, with periodic increases tied to the Consumer Price Index.
• Paper ballots: required in all N.C. counties. All but five states require paper ballots or some type of paper trail voters can verify at the polls. North Carolina becomes the 18th state using only paper ballots statewide. Sixty-seven North Carolina counties used paper ballots in 2012. H.B. 589 brings consistency across all counties.
• Taxpayer-funded campaigns: repealed. Only 13 states offer public funds to political candidates. North Carolina joins the 37 states that do not.
• Provisional out-of-precinct voting: no longer allowed. Thirty-one states and D.C. require voters to cast provisional ballots in the precinct where they live (according to 2008 data, the most recent I could find). Now, North Carolina does, too.
• Instant runoff elections: eliminated. North Carolina was the only state using the confusing instant runoff process in judicial races. Three states use instant runoffs for ballots cast by overseas voters. H.B. 589 eliminates them in North Carolina.
H.B. 589 did make sweeping changes to North Carolina’s election laws. But just as states with laws resembling ours have held successful elections and allowed citizens to exercise their constitutional rights, the same will happen here in North Carolina, with assurances of integrity and trust in a voting system that is fair and reasonable — and, in the scheme of things, still pretty liberal.
Becki Gray (@beckigray) is vice president for outreach at the John Locke Foundation.