Locals react to election reform

Aug. 13, 2013 @ 05:00 AM

Across the state and the nation, liberals have generally regarded the elections reform signed into law by Republican Gov. Pat McCrory on Monday as restrictive and politically motivated, whereas conservatives have said the law presents much-needed protections against fraud.

In Lee County, the story was the same.

Local Democratic Party Chairwoman Ann McCracken said the state’s new photo ID requirements for voters are the strictest in the country.

“So that’s troubling,” McCracken said. “Especially when there’s no obvious record of voter fraud. I guess the thing that bothers me, too, is we knew the photo ID was going to be part of their legislation. Not all this other stuff about shortening the times. ... The only thing I can think of is it would take out some of the people they don’t want voting.”

During the 2012 elections, the state reported 121 allegations of voter fraud to prosecutors to investigate — about 0.0017 percent of the 6,947,317 votes cast that year. It’s unclear how many of those allegations ended in a conviction or any other punitive action.

Within hours of the bill being signed into law, the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups had already sued the state, saying the changes put an undue burden on the voting rights of citizens, especially on the poor and on African-Americans.

The law institutes several changes, many of which won’t go into effect until 2014 or 2016. It requires all voters to present photo identification; it eliminates straight-party voting and same-day registration, and it cuts the number of days in early voting but extends the hours of polling places during that period, among other changes.

“I think it is great that he has signed that, period,” Charles Staley, chairman of the local Republican Party, said. “(McCrory) said during his campaign that one of his goals was (for the General Assembly) to pass a voter law and that he would sign it, so it’s something that he had promised, and I think it will be good for the state of North Carolina.”

Staley also noted that there are multiple investigations of voter fraud pending in Lee County, although he declined to comment further. Nancy Kimble, director of the Lee County Board of Elections, also declined to comment specifically on the ongoing investigations.

Kimble did, though, say that she doesn’t know of a single Lee County voter ever having been convicted of voter fraud, adding: “I’m all for (the law) if, in the future, it does prevent fraud.”

She also said voter turnout, at least in Lee County, likely won’t decline by much — a key argument many have cited in opposing the changes. Kimble said many who vote locally show up with their IDs anyway, although she did note that during the 2012 general election, 600 people took advantage of same-day registration voting. But for people who would have used that option in upcoming elections, as well as for people without IDs, she said she thinks there is enough time to get the word out about the changes.

McCracken said local Democratic activists have already been organizing trips for senior citizens and others who don’t have a driver’s license, passport or other valid photo ID and will continue to do so.