North Carolina’s voting rights law is currently being tested in the federal court system, but with early voting for the March 15 primary election beginning on March 3, the following rules currently apply to primary voters.
Voter registration requirements
If you are a citizen of the United States (18 years of age or older by election day) and a legal county resident of your county for at least 30 days prior to the election, you may register to at your county election services office or at various other governmental agencies such as Work First, Food Stamps, Department of Health, Department of Motor Vehicles, and the Employment Security Commission. You must not be currently registered nor planning to vote in any other county or state.
If you have ever been convicted of a felony, your citizenship rights were temporarily suspended. After completing all the terms of your sentence (including parole, probation, and post-release supervision), your rights are restored automatically – but you must go in and register to vote again (or for the first time) in the county where you reside. You will not be automatically registered to vote until you do.
Although the regular registration deadline for the primary is 25 days prior to the election (February 19), registration will also be available during one-stop early voting, which begins Thursday, March 3 and ends Saturday, March 12. For additional information or to check the status of your registration, call your office of Election Services or go to the NC State Board of Elections website for information.
Photo ID and alternatives
Changes in state law require a photo ID for voters at the polls beginning in 2016. There are six acceptable forms of photo ID:
- NC Drivers License/Permit or State Identification Card
- Current U.S. Passport, or U.S. passport card (Department of State-issued card for entering Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Bermuda)
- Veterans ID Card issued by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
- S. Military ID Card (unexpired if expiration date is noted on card)
- Tribal Enrollment Card issued by federally recognized Indian tribe
- Drivers License or Non-Operator License (unexpired) issued by another state – valid only if the voter registers in NC within 90 days of the election
“Reasonable impediment” to obtaining photo ID
Voters who are unable to obtain one of the acceptable photo IDs due to reasonable impediment such as lack of proper documents, transportation or work schedule problems, illness, or disability, may still cast a provisional ballot at the polls. The provisional vote will be counted when the information on their declaration is verified. These voters must:
- Sign a declaration describing their impediment
- Provide date of birth and last four digits of their Social Security number, or present their current voter registration card or a copy of an acceptable document (such as government check, bank statement, utility bill, that includes your correct, current home address)
Absentee ballots are available 50 days before the primary, up until 5 p.m. on Tuesday, March 8, one week before the election date. You may request a ballot to be mailed to you (or to a friend or relative who could bring the ballot to you). However, only you may vote the ballot. Full instructions will be on the absentee ballot, but it must be witnessed by an individual at least 18 years old. Absentee ballots must be returned to the Board of Elections no later than 5 p.m. on March 15 or, if delivered by mail, must be postmarked on or before March 15 and received no later than 5 p.m. on March 18.
Nursing home (and other facilities) voting
Absentee ballots may be requested by voters living at facilities such as nursing homes. Any person needing assistance with their ballot may receive assistance from a near relative or guardian, or may take advantage of the county’s Multipartisan Assistance Team which visits facilities to offer such help. (Note that employees of hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, or rest homes are prohibited by law from assisting with absentee ballots.)
Check with your local board of elections for specifics, or use this identification tool on the state website.
What’s on the ballot?
The primary ballots offer a chance to vote in a number of partisan statewide and county races, as well as a referendum for the issuance of a $2-billion general obligation bond for capital improvements for the state’s university and community college systems; water and sewer systems; the NC National Guard; state attractions and parks; and the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and Department of Public Safety.
Contests on the Democratic primary ballot include Presidential Preference, U.S. Senate, NC Governor, NC Lieutenant Governor, and the following additional NC offices: Attorney General, Commissioner of Labor, Superintendent of Public Instruction, Treasurer. In some counties there may also be primary challengers for seats on the county board of commissioners, register of deeds, and other local offices (not all ballots).
Candidates on the Republican primary ballot include the Presidential Preference, U.S. Senate, NC Governor, Attorney General, NC Commissioner of Agriculture, Commissioner of Insurance, Secretary of State, Superintendent of Public Instruction, NC State Senate (some ballots), NC House of Representatives (some ballots). In some counties there may also be primary challengers for seats on the county board of commissioners, register of deeds, and other local offices (not all ballots).
Sample ballots are available for your particular district at the Board of Elections website: http://www.buncombecounty.org/Governing/Depts/Election/sampleballots.aspx.
If you encounter problems voting
There are several sources of help should you have a voting problem. First, you may call the Buncombe County Board of Elections at (828) 250-4200, or the NC Board of Elections at (919) 733-7173 or (866) 522-4723. Nonprofit organizations offering assistance include Democracy North Carolina, 1-866-OUR-VOTE (Election Protection Hotline) or 1-888-VE-Y-VOTA; and United Way is offering assistance through its 2-1-1 helpline (also multi-lingual).
A version of this story by Nelda Holder (with specific references to Buncombe County voting) originally appeared in the February issue of The Urban News, Asheville’s multicultural monthly newspaper, as “Get Ready to Vote in the NC Primary.”