As a federal court case regarding election reform laws passed by North Carolina legislators in 2013 has become a major national news item, we await a judge’s ruling in the preliminary injunction hearing. Plaintiffs in the case include the ACLU of North Carolina, the League of Women Voters, and the NAACP. These groups claim that the regulations enacted under the Voter Identification and Verification Act, or VIVA, will disenfranchise lower-class voters, minority voters and even student voters.
The complaints, however, overlook a key feature of the voting laws that allows citizens to cast a ballot in virtually any situation. But to understand, we need to take a look at the law.
VIVA requires, among other things, voters to present photo ID (beginning in 2016) at their precinct and discounts out-of-precinct provisional ballots, while removing a week of early voting (although the total number of hours would remain the same as in the previous comparable election). Testimony given in the case argues that minority voters are less likely to have transportation to the poll in their correct precinct or flexibility in scheduling work hours to allow them to make it to the polls. Consider testimony given by Appalachian State University student Dawson Blaire Gould. Gould, who told his story in a sworn deposition in the case, voted with a provisional out-of-precinct ballot. According to Gould, he did not have access to transportation to his polling precinct on the day of the election, but was able to go to a different one closer by, on a class outing. The conclusion of his testimony is that if out-of-precinct ballots were not counted, his voice would not have been heard.
Other testimonies in the case spoke of similar situations – of hourly workers who couldn’t get off work, of people who do not own cars, or of voters who do not have access to a photo ID.
There may well be some validity to these claims: some voters may face the problems listed above. However, opponents of the measures have completely disregarded an essential provision retained in North Carolina’s elections law – no-excuse absentee voting.
North Carolina is one of 27 states that allow no-excuse absentee voting. In North Carolina, an absentee ballot for an election will be mailed to you upon request, requiring no excuse (such as absence or illness). It doesn’t even require a photo ID. As part of your absentee ballot request, you will be asked to provide either the last four digits of your driver’s license number or your Social Security number. If either of those is difficult to provide, you may submit a photocopy of a utility bill, a paycheck, bank statement, or any government document showing your name and address.
As a college student myself, I sympathize with Dawson’s story. I too, know the frustration of parking your car miles off of campus, or of having an inflexible class schedule. This last year, I was in class or at my work-study position almost non-stop from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Tuesdays. I would have been hard pressed to make it off campus and to a polling location, period.
However, VIVA will not disenfranchise voters who suffer from the same situation. I already know that I will be hard-pressed to vote on Election Day this fall – my Tuesdays won’t be any less busy. I intend to vote absentee. It isn’t hard. I’ll have to fill out and submit a one-page form, and then fill out my ballot and return it by mail. Anyone should be capable of filling out the form, thus ensuring he or she will be able to participate in the election. VIVA makes great progress towards verifying the identity of voters and preventing election fraud – and people such as Dawson Gould and I need not worry. Because of the retention of North Carolina’s no-excuse absentee voting, voters who work long hours, travel frequently, or do not have transportation will still be able to participate in North Carolina elections.