Changes in store for elections

Mar. 30, 2014 @ 05:02 AM

With candidate filing complete and the upcoming primary just a few months away, voters can anticipate several changes when casting their vote this election season.

The sweeping changes under House Bill 589, which the governor signed in August, range from a requirement to present photo identification when voting to a fewer number of days available for early voting.

“I really just want to get the information out there to the public,” said Lee County Elections Director Nancy Kimble, “and for them to come out and vote.”

Here are some of the changes that will impact the upcoming elections, including the May 6 primary.

Mail-in Absentee Voting

Residents will no longer be allowed to submit a handwritten request for a mail-in absentee ballot, Kimble said. People must now use the North Carolina State Board of Elections form that is available online at www.leecountync.gov/Departments/Elections/tabid/87/Default.aspx  and at the local elections office, located at 225 S. Steele St. They must also have at least two witness signatures on the ballot or have the ballot notarized. The two witnesses may not be a candidate or an employee at an adult care home, Kimble said.

If the elections office receives a request for assistance regarding a mail-in absentee ballot from someone at a nursing home, a team of people, from two different political parities, will be sent to help, Kimble said. Those volunteers will be certified by the state and undergo various training. So far, one person has volunteered, and Kimble said they are looking for other people who may be interested in helping. People can find out more information about joining the assistance team at (919) 718-4646.

Early Voting

Under the new law, people will no longer be able to register to vote during the one-stop early voting process, Kimble said. If residents wish to vote in the May 6 primary, they have to have registered by April 11.

The impact of this change in Lee County varies by election.

“I want to say in 2012, which was a presidential election, we had approximately 600 people register and vote in the same day,” she said. “But, then again, during last year’s municipal election, we hardly had anyone. It’s according to the election.”

While the same number of voting hours will be offered, there will be fewer days to vote early.

“It has been shortened by one week,” Kimble said. “But we still have to conform to the law that says we have to do the same amount of hours.”

Early voting for the primary begins April 24 at the Lee County Board of Elections Office, located at 225 S. Steele St., and the McSwain Extension Education and Agriculture Center, located at 2420 Tramway Road. Hours for voting will be from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday with no voting on Sunday, April 27. Hours for Saturday, May 3, will be from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Voter ID

One of the more controversial items under the new law is presenting photo identification when voting. This photo ID requirement does not go into effect until the 2016 election. However, Kimble said people will be told about the new requirement and given paperwork about how to apply for a free ID when they come to the polls in 2014 and 2015.

“They will be given what is known as a voter check-in review (document), which tells you what you have to do when you get up to the registration table,” Kimble said. “It’s going to ask if they have a qualified voter ID for 2016. If they don’t, they will sign that (document), and it’s our understanding that they will be put on a list, and we will contact them to help them get a voter ID.”

Other changes

• There will no longer be straight-ticket voting for a political party. The candidate’s political affiliation will still be next to his/her name on the ballot. In 2012, there were more than 12,500 people in Lee County who issued a straight party ticket while voting.

• Ballots cast at the wrong precinct will no longer count as a provisional vote.

“We had some people who vote for convenience’s sake in provisionals,” Kimble said. “[For example, there are some who say,] ‘I am close to Southern Lee High School, so I’ll just pop in there to vote.’ And then it would count at my precinct. And that was the way the law used to be.”

People who come to the wrong precinct in 2014 will be told their ballot won’t count and encouraged to go to their correct precinct.

• The county’s 13 electronic voting machines — made available to those with disabilities so the county is in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act — are in violation of the law. While the machines produce a paper ballot, the ballot remains within the machine, Kimble said. The machines were bought in 2006 for approximately $5,000 each, she said, adding they will more than likely have to be replaced.