Despite the full provisions of the 2013 voter ID law coming into effect this year, voting could be as simple as showing up to the polls.
In the summer of 2015, the N.C. General Assembly passed a bill allowing for a "reasonable impediment" exception to the Voter ID Law.
This allows voters to submit a provisional ballot stating why they do not have a valid form of photo identification and write in their birth date and last four digits of their Social Security number. Voters can also use any government document showing their name and address.
This is a necessary protective measure for students without a valid form of photo identification, said Bob Hall, executive director of Democracy N.C.
“This safety net is valuable for college students who are from out of state," he said. "They don’t need to surrender their driver’s license from out of state in order to vote here."
Irving Joyner, a law professor at N.C. Central University, said this provision will help the small group of voters who do not have proper photo identification, but not enough voters know about it yet.
“The problem that presents itself is that the Board of Elections has not really informed citizens about the reasonable impediment exception nor have those people who will be working at the polls been trained about those exceptions and how they should be applied,” Joyner said.
Voter turnout in the 2014 midterm elections in North Carolina was 44.4 percent out of the 6.6 million registered voters — a particularly low percentage.
Hall said even the smallest numbers can make a difference in North Carolina elections.
“We found in 2014, the year the ID provision, the elimination of same day registration and precinct vote became law, the voter turnout was reduced by 30,000 votes,” he said.
Joyner said there has been deliberate action taken by the Board of Elections to not inform citizens of the provision.
“The Board of Elections had led a conscious effort to inform everyone that unless you have (an ID), you can’t vote,” Joyner said. “People are aware of that directive, but the law that the state passed makes it clear that this is not the final message. The final message is that there are exceptions, and people should take advantage of their exceptions.”
Abby Levine, legal director of advocacy programs at Bolder Advocacy, a group that advances the role of nonprofits and foundations in influencing public policy, said it's not just the government's job to communicate these provisions to voters.
“It all goes back to the role of organizations to educate the public and more groups and media to provide to voters to lift this up,” said Levine.
Hall said he is concerned about all the attention on just the photo identification provision and not other steps voters need to take prior to Election Day.
“More people will probably be prevented from voting because they haven’t registered in time rather than that they don’t have an ID,” Hall said. “It’s important for people to update their registration to their home address and use early voting because many issues can be resolved if you’re in the wrong precinct or if you’ve moved to a different county.”
Joyner said this year's primary results will depend on voters' willingness to go to the polls.
“It is our intention to do everything we can with our limited resources to show that there are exceptions,” Joyner said. “(Voters) should not shy away from the polls and (should not be) under the impression that they cannot vote, and we hope there will be a robust turnout.”
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