Voters weigh in on election changes

pseligson@newsobserver.comNovember 8, 2013 

Next year, the state’s new voting laws will begin effecting elections, and in Johnston County, that could mean two new polling places.

This summer, the N.C. General Assembly passed the Voter Information Verification Act, often called the Voter ID Bill. The law makes a number of changes to elections, including a controversial ID requirement. The Herald asked Smithfield voters to weigh in on the new law while leaving the polls last week.

What’s changing

Voter ID: Starting in 2016, voters must present a photo ID to vote. Valid IDs include a driver’s license, passport and military ID. People without an ID can go to the Division of Motor Vehicles to get one for free.

Starting in 2014, boards of elections across the state will ask voters at the polls whether they have a photo ID. This will help election boards see how many people the new law will affect, said Leigh Anne Price, director of Johnston County elections.

Same-Day Registration: In 2013 and before, people who missed the deadline to register to vote could vote early and register at the same time. The new law gets rid of same-day registration in 2014.

In the 2012 presidential election, 1,728 people in Johnston County voted using same-day registration. In this year’s town elections, three people used same-day registration.

Early voting period: Previously, the state required local election boards to offer early voting from the third Thursday before voting day to the Saturday before voting day. The new law shortens that time to the second Thursday before voting day. That’s a loss of six early voting days.

The new law also requires counties to offer early voting for the same number of hours in every election. For instance, the 2014 race will have to have the same number of early voting hours as the 2012 presidential race.

Price said the county has three early voting sites during even-year elections. Since early voting is losing days, Johnston County will likely have to open two new polling places to provide the same number of hours, Price said.

In 2012, about 40,800 people in Johnston County voted early; in all, about 70,000 people voted. Of the 7,222 people who cast ballots in this year’s elections, only 393 voted early.

What voters think

Tracey O’Dowd, 43, said the new photo ID requirement is great. Before, “you technically could have walked out and gone back in a few hours later and voted again,” she said. “I just think, why not? You should be able to prove who you are in order to cast your ballot.”

Her husband, Mike O’Dowd, 41, agreed. He said getting rid of same-day registration also sounded like a good idea, though that change won’t affect him. “You know when it’s time to vote,” he said.

He added: “This is better than someone pulling up in a van and saying, ‘Hey everybody, jump in a van. I know you’re not registered to vote, but here’s a free Chik-fil-A sandwich.’”

But Mike O’Dowd said he was not a fan of the shorter period for early voting. “I like early voting,” he said. “It makes it easy just to get it done.”

Shirley Sharek, 54, also supports the photo ID rule.

“You have to have a photo ID to do anything else,” she said. “If you want to buy cigarettes, you want to buy alcohol, you have to have a photo ID. It doesn’t make any sense to me that you would be able to vote for somebody without proving who you are.”

But Felecia Hinton said the photo ID requirement was wrong. She said many senior citizens don’t have valid photo IDs and don’t have somebody to help them go out and get one.

Hinton said the new law will prevent people from voting, especially minorities.

“If you want to vote, you should be able to vote,” she said. “Nobody should be able to stop your voice.”

Hinton was also critical of shortening the early voting period. She said the longer voting period, which included two Saturdays, benefited people who were busy during the work week. “It gives them the opportunity,” she said.

Seligson: 919-836-5768

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