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News State / Region House Bill 451 could change the way we vote

Shorter early voting time among the proposed changes.

North Carolina House Majority Leader Edgar Starnes (R-Caldwell) filed a bill on March 27 that could change the method of voting throughout the state. House Bill 451 is defined as legislation that is “an act to restore partisan judicial elections, to change the early voting period, to change the order of parties on the ballot, to eliminate straight-party voting, to eliminate same-day voter registration, and to allow flexibility in applying for absentee ballots.”

One of the biggest effects the bill would have on North Carolinians is the shortened early voting period also known as one-stop voting.

Currently, voters can head to the poll 19 days before the election to begin the early voting process, which continues until the Saturday before election day. Early voting was established in the state to decrease waiting time at the polls, to eliminate crowds, and to provide voters with easier access to the polls through convenient hours and multiple locations throughout the county.

In addition to increasing the convenience of voting through accessibility, early voting allows same-day registration for North Carolina residents. Those wanting to cast their ballots can go to the polls, register to vote then submit their ballots all on the same day. Under the proposed legislation, same day registration would also be eliminated. Under the current law, new voters must register to vote by mail 25 days prior to the election, unless voters participate in same day registration.

According to the State Board of Elections, about 38 percent of the state's 6.6 million registered voters utilized early voting during the 2012 election, an increase of 125,321 votes, or 4.8 percent from 2008. Of those voting early, Democrats significantly outnumbered Republicans by 1.2 million Democrats versus 800,000 Republicans.

Democrats also had the advantage in same-day registration, with 46,691 Democrats registering on the same day they vote, compared with 25,868 Republicans.

In Macon County, 35 to 40 percent of registered Democrats participated in early voting, compared to the 40 to 45 percent of Republicans.

In 2012, 242 of Macon County's roughly 25,000 registered voters registered using same-day registration, a slight decrease from 2008's 273.

The majority of voters in Macon County have taken advantage of one-stop voting since 2008. According to the Macon County Board of Elections, in 2008, 17,466 of the county's 25,281 registered voters cast ballots. Of those 17,466, 6,595 ballots were cast on election day, while 9,595 were cast during the early voting process. 1,135 absentee ballots, which include overseas and military ballots, were also cast in 2008.

In the 2012 Presidential Election, 17,075 of the county's 25,208 registered cast ballots. Of those 17,075, 6,700 voters headed to the polls on election day while 9,325 voters cast their ballots in the 19-day period allowed for early voting. Macon County also had 1,002 absentee ballots in 2012.

According to Macon County Board of Elections Director Kim Bishop, House Bill 451 would have some effect on voters in the county. Currently, Macon County does not utilize Sunday voting, so by the bill eliminating Sunday voting, Macon County will not be affected. But according to Bishop, shortening the early-voting and eliminating the same-day registration process will affect voters in Macon County. "Those things are used to increase voter turnout, so if they are shortened or eliminated, it will have an effect on voters," said Bishop.

The proposed legislation would cut a week off the early-voting period. House Bill 451 would also stop straight-ticket voting. Democrats cast 300,000 more straight tickets than Republicans in 2012.

Language in the bill also loosens the requirements for submitting an absentee ballot. Under current law, the county board of elections can only issue an absentee ballot to the voter who has made a written request. The new law changes the requirement to only needing a written request “signed by the requester.” In other words, anyone can come in with one or more written requests and gain absentee ballots.

According to Bishop, Macon County's Board of Elections utilizes a signature database to verify signatures on absentee ballots. Any time someone submits an absentee request, the Board of Elections compares the submitted document to the signature on file.

Macon County native Justin Conley, who serves as the National Committeeman for the Young Democrats of North Carolina (YDNC), is working with other members of the YDNC to send a message to state legislation that House Bill 451 would virtually end voting in the state.

“This bill is just a bunch of horsefeathers,” said Conley. “The GOP hates long lines at the DMV, but based on this bill they love them at the polls on Election Day. Early voting makes voting easier and more convenient for voters, but apparently the Republican sponsors of HB 451 want our elections to be as bad as Florida's."

Young Democrats across the state began speaking out against HB 451 by tweeting on the hashtag #WeAreNotFlorida last week. "Last year, everyone with a TV had a front row seat to the latest voting disaster in Florida,” said Conley. “In Florida, voters had to wait in excruciatingly long lines after the Republican-controlled legislature cut the number of early voting days. HB 451 is just another piece of bad Republican legislation that doesn't create a single North Carolina job."

HB 451 has passed the first reading in the house, has been referred to the house elections committee and if favorable, will be referred to the house finance committee. In North Carolina, a bill cannot become law unless it is ratified by both the house and the senate, and if necessary, signed by the governor.


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