On March 15, 2016, North Carolina will hold its primary elections for candidates running for various federal and state offices. Primary elections operate differently than general elections. General elections only consist of different candidates, running for the same office, from different political parties or affiliations. However, for partisan, or politically split, races, a primary election must occur first. Primary elections allow for voters to choose one candidate to represent the voter’s political party in the general election. For example, there are currently twelve Republican presidential candidates. Each candidate will be listed on a ballot in the March primary. Voters, who identify their political affiliation as Republican, will vote for one of these twelve candidates to represent the political party as a whole in the general election. The same process will occur for other political parties. Overall, the primary election provides voters with an opportunity to vote for their choice of a political party’s nominees for partisan races. For a list of federal and state offices up for election in 2016, please visit the North Carolina State Board of Election’s 2016 Election Info page, http://www.ncsbe.gov/ncsbe/Elections/Election-Information.
Upon arrival at the polls, North Carolinians will face a few procedural changes. As of January 1, 2016, North Carolina law requires registered voters to present an acceptable form of photo identification to an election official in order to cast ballot. Acceptable forms of photo identification include:
(1) United States passport,
(2) North Carolina-issued driver’s license,
(3) Veterans ID card,
(4) United States Military ID card,
(5) Federal or state-issued tribal enrollment card, or
(6) Drivers license or non-operators identification card issued by another state (only if the voter registered to vote within ninety days of the election).
If a voter does not have an acceptable form of identification, the voter may request, or the county election official may provide, a “reasonable impediment” declaration form. This form is made available to voters who are unable to obtain an acceptable form of photo identification due a reasonable impediment. Reasonable impediments include, but are not limited to, lack of proper documents, lack of transportation, work schedule, illness or disability, and family obligations. Additionally, this form provides an “other” section for voters to indicate other reasons as to why they do not have the specified forms of identification. Once the form is completed, the voter must sign the declaration, and provide his or her birthdate, and last four digits of his or her Social Security number or present his or her current voter registration card or a copy of an acceptable document bearing his or her name and address (e.g. current utility bill, bank statement, or a government-issued document). In the event that the voter does not provide proper identification with his or her declaration form, the voter has up to nine days to return to the county board of elections and present the required identification.
Once this form is completed, the voter will be able to cast a provisional ballot. A provisional ballot is ballot used to record one’s vote, and is not officially counted until questions about the given voter’s eligibility are answered. According to North Carolina law, the voter’s provisional ballot will be counted when the county board of elections verifies the information on the declaration, and all other eligibility requirements are met. However, a county board of election official may not count a voter’s provisional ballot under four circumstances. First, the provisional ballot may not be counted if the county board of elections has grounds to believe that the reasons listed on the declaration are factually false, criticizes the photo identification requirement, or are obviously non-sensical statements. Second, a provisional ballot may not be counted if the voter failed to include the last four digits of his or her Social Security number and date of birth, or his or her voter registration card, or other acceptable documents. Third, the county election official was unable to use the voter’s information to confirm the voter’s registration information. Lastly, if the voter is disqualified for some other reason by provided by law, his or her provisional ballot will not be counted.
Although it is not required to have a lawyer to accompany you to the polls, it is important to understand North Carolina election laws, your rights as a voter, and the options that are available to you at the polls, if you do not possess an acceptable form of photo identification. By knowing your rights to civic participation, you can recognize when those rights have been violated. For more information about the Voter ID law, you can visit http://voterid.nc.gov/index.html. Learn Your Rights 101.