N.C.ís One-Stop voting is a blessing for busy public
Published August 24th 2007 in CITIZEN-TIMES.com

In our democracy, there is no greater privilege, right and responsibility than casting a ballot.

We’re pleased to note that process just got easier. Hopefully, the passage of HB-91, “Registration and Voting at One-Stop Sites,” by the General Assembly, and the formal approval of the plan by the U.S. Department of Justice, will give a boost to voter participation locally and across North Carolina.

It should be a particular godsend for new voters and prognosticators.

Government affects virtually everything we do in our lives, from the condition of the road we drive on during our morning commute, to the safety of the workplace we arrive at, to the state of the schools our children attend, the air we breathe and the water we drink.

The vote is where the average citizen gets his or her say on those matters by electing the officials with our best interests in mind.

However, that powerful tool is cast aside by many. In North Carolina, the “Civic Participation Index’’ released earlier this year showed only two of five adults in the state vote in a typical election.

One million citizens aren’t even registered to vote, and even of those who did register for the 2006 election, only 37 percent cast a ballot.

Harried for time

That doesn’t mean North Carolinians are bad people or poor citizens. A comment from Bob Hall of Democracy North Carolina framed the issue succinctly: “Young people and busy blue-collar workers don’t pay attention to the election until the final week or so, and by then it’s too late.’’

Under the old law, when you had to register to vote 25 days before an election, that may well have been true.

Now, voters will be able to go to a One-Stop Site, and after presenting proper identification, can register and vote at the same time shortly before an election (but not on Election Day itself).

The main objection to One-Stop voting was the risk of voter fraud. The new law seems to make that possibility rather remote. Identification will be carefully checked, and the penalty for attempting to perpetrate fraud is steep — a felony.

The voters same-day registration should help the most are young voters attempting to navigate the system for the first time and new residents who need to familiarize themselves with their new state’s voting laws.

North Carolina is breaking ground with this move, becoming just the eighth state in the nation — and the first in the South — to allow citizens to register and vote shortly before an election.

There may be bumps as election officials and voters adjust to the new system, but the potential payoff is huge. Democracy North Carolina reported that a study last month by two political scientists estimated voter participation could rise nearly 11 percent for young voters, 9 percent for new residents and 6 percent for African-Americans.

Democracy North Carolina’s Hall said, “The vote is each person’s voice in shaping policies that will hurt or help their future. North Carolina is among the bottom 15 states for voter participation, and our low rankings for health care, education, pay equity and other indicators mirror that low level of involvement by ordinary citizens.’’

Same-day registration holds the promise of making civic participation less of a chore. Mainly, it holds the promise of making our government — and thus our lives — better.

HOW SDR WORKS IN NC:

The Same-Day Registration law (H-91/Session Law 2007-253) allows a citizen to go to a One-Stop Early Voting site in the county, show proper identification to an election official, fill out the registration form, swear under penalty of a felony that the information is accurate, and then cast a ballot — all on the same day.

Forms of acceptable identification include these documents with the person’s current address:

• a N.C. drivers license

• a telephone, electric, gas or other utility bill

• a bank statement

• a payroll check

• a document from a local, state, or federal government agency

The registration form is processed immediately, through computerized and staff data matching and an address correction card sent via mail; if a problem arises, the ballot (which is coded to the person) can be pulled before the canvass date for the election.

Election officials must now provide a provisional ballot to anyone who wants to vote and then research the person’s eligibility. Many election officials favor SDR because it will drastically reduce the need for provisional ballots.

SOURCE: www.democracy-nc.org.