CHAPEL HILL – As the New Year begins, several new election law changes in North Carolina will go into effect. To counteract these changes, which many argue will make it harder for people to vote, former State Senator Ellie Kinnaird is leading the way in voter registration efforts.
In August of 2013, the nine-term state senator for Orange and Chatham Counties announced that she was stepping down due to actions of the Republican super majority. Kinnaird said many of the measures she had worked to enact were reversed this past legislative session.
Election law changes topped the long list of legislation that Kinnaird said frustrated her most.
“This really reflects how people have really reacted to what happened in the last legislative session and how they want to not only strongly express their opinions through Moral Monday, but to actually try to do something with real voting registration and making sure that people have the correct ID,” Kinnaird said.
Many of those changes will go into effect this year. Now, the state’s early voting period has been shortened from 17 days to 10 days; same-day registration is no longer available (registration ends 25 days prior to an election); out-of-precinct voting on election day is no longer allowed; the procedure for absentee ballots has changed; and straight party voting has been eliminated, among other changes.
Beginning in 2016, all voters must present an approved form of photo identification. Backers of the Voter ID Law have said it will protect against voter fraud.
“If you think about it, you have all those groups that are mad at you [Republican lawmakers]—the environmentalists, the health professionals, the social justice people and the women— well that is kind of scary if all those people might vote you out of office. So what do you do? You pass very obstructive voter election laws so they can’t vote,” Kinnaird said.
To counteract these changes, Kinnaird began working on a grass-roots project to help voters register and to also raise awareness of the changes happening at the polls. She partnered with many community members, including parishioners of St. Paul AME Church.
Soon after Kinnaird’s resignation announcement, she wrote about the decision in her newsletter. Three hundred people responded, asking if they could help with the “NC Voter Project” and an additional 1,600 people responding in the coming months.
“We are hoping that people all over the state will now take part in this and make sure that everybody has what they need. Then, if we have this big database, we will give it to the local people who did all the work and say, ‘Are you going to call them and ask if they registered? Have you voted?’”
The project’s website, NCVoter.org, launched Monday and is supported by Democracy-NC. It provides information for voters on topics including the election law changes, how to get a valid form of ID by the 2016 election, and ways to promote registration.
It also offers a canvassing kit for volunteers to use in their own precincts to help get people ready and registered to vote.
“They will then go and take a kit and go out into their own neighborhood. This is not too burdensome. It is just in their own neighborhoods. And then perhaps some of the people will go door-to-door.”
The State of North Carolina currently faces several state and federal lawsuits questioning the legality of the election law changes. The cases will likely be tied up in court for a lengthy amount of time.
“Of course we don’t know what will happen with the lawsuits, though as of right now, it doesn’t look too hot,” Kinnaird said.
Though NCVoter.org is still in its pilot stage, Kinnaird said she excited for 2014 and the positive impact the project could have on getting voters to the polls.