It’s too hard to vote at Raleigh polling sites

The Herald-Sun (Sunday) - - Opinion - BY ANNE GOR­DON Anne Gor­don is a se­nior lec­tur­ing fel­low at Duke Univer­sity School of Law.

On Tues­day, I spent eight and a half hours poll mon­i­tor­ing out­side the Chavis Com­mu­nity Cen­ter in south­east Raleigh. At least 75 per­cent of the peo­ple who went in to vote came out with­out hav­ing voted. Most were African-Amer­i­can.

Most were told that they were at the wrong lo­ca­tion, al­though they could have voted there three days ear­lier dur­ing early vot­ing. Many had waited in line for 45 min­utes, only to be turned away. Still oth­ers hadn’t yet reg­is­tered; again, al­though they could have reg­is­tered three days ear­lier and voted the same day, that op­tion was no longer avail­able.

Sev­eral peo­ple walked away an­gry, and said they could not or would not vote, ei­ther be­cause they had al­ready used up their breaks from work, or be­cause trans­porta­tion re­stric­tions made it too dif­fi­cult. Ev­ery­one who walked out with­out vot­ing was frus­trated.

There are easy and re­li­able ways to en­sure that more peo­ple vote, and that more votes are counted.

First, the leg­is­la­ture could make district-wide vot­ing avail­able on elec­tion day, not just on early vot­ing days. Where this isn’t pos­si­ble, the board of elec­tions needs to make it clear to peo­ple — be­fore they stand in line — that their early vot­ing lo­ca­tion may not be the same as their elec­tion day lo­ca­tion. As it was, there were only a cou­ple of pa­per signs that said, “Check your lo­ca­tion here: https://”. That’s not ex­actly user­friendly, and im­pos­si­ble for peo­ple with­out smart phones.

Sec­ond, same-day reg­is­tra­tion has to be avail­able on elec­tion day, not just early vot­ing. Sev­en­teen states of­fer same-day reg­is­tra­tion, which al­lows any qual­i­fied res­i­dent of a state to reg­is­ter to vote and cast a bal­lot on the same day. A prospec­tive voter must bring a photo ID to an early vot­ing site, and if the ID doesn’t have an ad­dress, they must bring a piece of of­fi­cial mail, for ex­am­ple, be­fore they are reg­is­tered and al­lowed to vote.

Third, elec­tion mon­i­tors must of­fer a pro­vi­sional bal­lot where there is a ques­tion about a voter’s el­i­gi­bil­ity to vote. Cit­i­zens of our state are guar­an­teed the op­por­tu­nity to cast such a bal­lot where a ques­tion is raised, but elec­tions of­fi­cials of­ten al­low peo­ple to leave the vot­ing site with­out of­fer­ing this op­tion.

A fa­ther of two had al­most made it to the park­ing lot when I ran up to him and said, “Were you able to vote to­day, sir?” He turned to me and said, “They said I wasn’t reg­is­tered, so I guess that’s that.” A man came out a few min­utes later and said, “They told me I’m at the wrong lo­ca­tion, but to get to the right place I have to catch the bus back into down­town and make a change, and that’ll take me an hour.”

Both were frus­trated, but nei­ther knew what they could do to make it bet­ter. So I en­ter­tained the kids while the dad got on the phone with elec­tion pro­tec­tion (1-888-OURVOTE) and found his reg­is­tra­tion; a few min­utes later I drove the other man to his cor­rect polling place. Both walked out of their polling place with “I Voted” stick­ers on their chests and huge smiles on their faces.

Voter pro­tec­tion vol­un­teers like me from the ACLU and Democ­racy NC worked hard all day to use our own smart phones to help peo­ple find out their polling lo­ca­tions, dou­blecheck their reg­is­tra­tions, and re­port ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties, but we couldn’t do it all our­selves. We still saw dozens of votes wasted be­cause of in­ef­fi­ciency and con­fu­sion.

This is its own kind of voter sup­pres­sion, and while it may not be as bla­tant as a poll tax or a mob, the mes­sage is clear: we don’t care about your vote. It’s time to change that.

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