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The Daily Tar Heel

Voters experience problems at the primary polls

“The voters had no problem getting out to the polls and making their voices heard,” said Tracy Reams, director of the Orange County Board of Elections.

Despite high participation numbers, some felt there were obstacles preventing voters from casting their ballots.

The location of polling sites at North Carolina Central University were moved without notifying voters, according to Stacie Burgess, spokesperson for the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

“One of our volunteers has redirected over 100 people, many of whom are elderly and are having trouble getting across campus, which includes a hill,” she said in an email.

And issues with election administration were not unique to Burgess’ precinct.

“Across the state, voters were being misinformed or turned away at the polls altogether,” said Bob Hall, executive director of Democracy N.C.

Scott Simpson, director of media and campaigns for The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said much of this confusion traces back to changes made in the Voting Rights Act in 2014.

“Almost immediately following the gutting of the Voting Right Acts, North Carolina began constructing barriers to voting across the state,” he said in a conference call Wednesday.

UNC students, in particular, were affected by the admissibility of out-of-state driver’s licenses for those registered to vote in North Carolina.

“If voters were registered longer than 90 days before the election, their out-of-state ID would not be an acceptable form of identification,” Reams said.

Critics cite this as an example of attempted suppression of the youth vote.

“What you have is a situation where out-of-state students, for example, are told it’s a good thing to go and register,” Hall said. “But if they do it anytime in advance longer than a month and a half, they’re being turned away.”

Similar issues were experienced by American Indians, who faced ambiguity over the admissibility of tribal enrollment cards as forms of ID.

“Native voters were told consistently that their enrollment cards would be acceptable, but when they arrived at polls to vote, they were simply turned away,” said Penda Hair, an attorney for the N.C. NAACP, on the call.

But the problems with election administration in the primaries were not limited to legal barriers.

“The real problem is you have officials at the polls who simply aren’t trained well enough, and polling places which are not equipped to handle the number of voters we’re seeing,” Hall said.

Hair said a lack of understanding and adequate training for election officials led to confusion at the polls.

“People can’t get in the polls, and they can’t get moved through efficiently. Some lines in Winston-Salem, for example, lasted more than two hours,” she said. “This is exactly the type of electoral chaos that results from politicians suppressing the vote for their own gain.”

But advocates are hopeful for meaningful reform before the upcoming general election.

“The situation is not hopeless — it can be fixed,” said Hall. “But if we don’t act soon, there could potentially be large numbers of voters who are kept from participating come November.”

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