Your Handy Guide To “Retention Elections”

Are you familiar with “retention elections”?

You better be, because you’re going to see them on your ballot this November.

(Well, maybe.)

They’re hearing arguments in court Tuesday in a lawsuit challenging a new state law that establishes “retention elections,” allowing judges to avoid facing challengers when they’re up for re-election.

The law in question passed last year. According to the law, when a judge is up for re-election in North Carolina, first the voters go to the polls and vote yes or no on whether the judge should stay in office. That’s called a “retention election.” If voters say yes, the judge is re-elected to a new term and never has to face an opponent. If voters say no, then the judge leaves office, the governor appoints a replacement, and then there’s an open election two years later.

The question now is: was the General Assembly acting within its authority when it passed that law…or did that change require an amendment to the state constitution, which voters would have had to approve?

It all has to do with semantics. What the lawsuit is claiming (among other things) is that a yes-or-no vote is not technically considered an “election,” but rather a “referendum”… and if the GA wants to take judicial elections and turn them into referendums, they have to amend the state’s constitution to do that.

(Isn’t the law fun?)

It’s a three-judge panel in Wake County that’s hearing the case. The lawsuit was filed by an attorney (Sabra Faires) who wants to run against State Supreme Court justice Robert Edmunds this fall. As the law currently stands, voters will only be able to vote yes or no on Edmunds instead, with no other candidates on the ballot.

Get more details on the lawsuit, from NC Policy Watch.

North Carolina is not the only state that holds “retention elections” for judges – nineteen other states do the same thing. (California’s done it since 1934.) The lawsuit notes, though, that each of those other nineteen states did write the new procedure into their state constitutions.

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Legal considerations aside, are “retention elections” a good idea? Here are some relevant points:

1) The law was passed on party lines, with Republicans in favor and Democrats opposed…

2) …and especially since the State Supreme Court is majority-Republican, you can safely assume GOP legislators passed the bill primarily to make it harder to unseat sitting judges. (Edmunds is a Republican.)

3) But the idea of retention elections has drawn support across the country from Republicans and Democrats alike – it’s not just a GOP thing…

4) …and generally speaking, the idea of “retention elections” has been raised as a way to check the explosion of big money into judicial elections. This has become a serious issue in recent years – as evidenced just two years ago here in North Carolina. (States that have switched to “retention elections” have generally found that it’s tempered the influence of big money – though occasionally there are exceptions.)

5) Nor is it necessarily the case that a “retention election” would make it easier on an incumbent judge. Think about Hillary Clinton: if you were to ask Americans “should Hillary Clinton be president?” a majority would probably say no. But if you were to ask “should Hillary Clinton be president, or should it be Donald Trump?”, you’d probably see Clinton’s vote share go up. With a few exceptions (Mark Kleinschmidt, e.g.), incumbents usually outpoll their popularity rating in elections, because there’s always that small percentage of voters who don’t like the incumbent but like the challenger even less. It’s the first rule of logic: you’re more likely to say “I don’t want Robert Edmunds on the Supreme Court” than you are to say “I don’t want Robert Edmunds on the Supreme Court and I do want Sabra Faires there.” So retention elections may not be easier on the incumbent after all – it depends on the circumstances. (Historically, though, retention elections do tend to protect sitting judges. According to Ballotpedia, it’s rare – though certainly not unheard of – for a judge to lose a retention election. On the other hand, it’s also pretty rare for incumbents to lose elections in any case.)

6) While we’re on the subject, we also ought to be asking ourselves if judges should even be elected at all. On the federal level, judges are not elected, and the framers of the U.S. Constitution set it up that way for a reason. As Alexander Hamilton wrote in Federalist 78, the law is the law, and it ought to be enforced and interpreted as it’s written. Judges ought to be independent, not subject to the whims of public opinion – and public opinion shouldn’t dictate how the law is enforced.

(Gosh, I sound like a conservative strict constructionist there, don’t I? Well, just in case you were ever in doubt about how insincere and hypocritical our politicians are, you ought to know that there’s one presidential candidate who thinks the law should be subject to the whims of public opinion, who actually has proposed elections for Supreme Court justices…and naturally it’s the one guy who’s running around right now yelling the loudest about how big of a “strict constructionist” he is and how the Constitution is timeless and unchanging and how personal opinion shouldn’t matter. Ted Cruz.)

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Of course none of that has anything to do with the question before the court this week – the judges aren’t deciding whether retention elections are a good idea, they’re only deciding whether the GA acted within its authority.

But as Sharon McCloskey at NC Policy Watch observes, things could really get exciting if the judges strike down the law. If that should happen, the state would appeal – and the appeal would go up to the State Supreme Court, where all the judges are directly affected by the law in question. It’s an obvious conflict of interest – so it’ll be interesting to see what happens then. (McCloskey says when the same thing happened in Tennessee, the governor “had to appoint a special supreme court” just to hear that one case.)

http://chapelboro.com/columns/aaron-keck/your-handy-guide-to-retention-elections

Who said this about whom?

The candidate “has the knack of doing things and doing them noisily, clamorously; while he is in the neighborhood the public can no more look the other way than the small boy can turn his head away from a circus parade followed by a steam calliope.”

Can you guess who was the target of this comment?

I would have guessed Donald Trump, but it was written to describe Theodore Roosevelt, who shared Trump’s flamboyance and strong ego.

The following quote sounds like what Republican congressional leaders were saying about Barack Obama after the 2014 and 2010 congressional elections:

“Our allies and enemies, and [the President] himself, should all understand that [he] has no authority to speak for the American people. His leadership has just been emphatically repudiated by them.”

This could also have been said about other recent presidents of both parties whose congressional allies did poorly in mid-term elections. However, it was directed at Woodrow Wilson in November 1918 when he, as World War I was ending, saw his party decisively lose control of Congress. The brutal comment came from Teddy Roosevelt.

This quote could come from a current political partisan accusing the opposition of stirring up class division:

“It was not a case, as it had been in some earlier elections, of one section of the country against other sections, or of country folk against city-dwellers, or even of the young against the old. It was the closest that America had come to class warfare, as labor was arrayed almost solidly against business, as the poor were pitted against the well-fixed, and as the middle class was split against itself.”

Historian Donald McCoy authored those words to describe what he called an electoral civil war fought in 1936 between President Franklin Roosevelt and his opponents.

To hear an opposing candidate rail against a president’s “wasteful and extravagant spending” would not surprise us, unless we learned it was candidate Franklin Roosevelt attacking President Herbert Hoover in a famous speech at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh in 1931. Roosevelt made a campaign promise to balance the budget. This promise was quickly discarded when he won the election and faced the challenges of the Depression.

When some historians wrote about a president’s dilemma when he faces a Supreme Court with four justices solidly in opposition to his program, they call them the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.”

They could have been writing about today’s court and today’s president, but they were describing the opposition to Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal from Justices James C. McReynolds, Pierce Butler, Willis Van Devanter, and George Sutherland. Knowing that these four were going to be against him, Roosevelt knew that he had to win the votes of all five of the remaining justices.

“An energetic and unified executive is not a threat to a free and responsible government” is a statement we might expect from Hillary Clinton or another progressive or liberal candidate. But I was surprised when I learned that it came from former President Hebert Hoover.

What about the following?

“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.”

It could have come from Bernie Sanders, but these words came from President Dwight Eisenhower.

Thanks to UNC-Chapel Hill Emeritus Professor William Leuchtenburg for these quotes from a preliminary copy of his latest book, “The American President: From Teddy Roosevelt to Bill Clinton,” which Oxford University Press plans to release in December.

http://chapelboro.com/columns/one-on-one/who-said-this-about-whom

Early Voting Sites Selected for October

Four sites have been chosen to host early voting for this fall’s municipal elections.

The Orange County Board of Elections has chosen three satellite early-voting sites along with the headquarters in Hillsborough for residents to vote this fall.

Chapel of the Cross, on East Franklin Street, will serve as one voting location. Chapel Hill Town Council member Lee Storrow says he is happy the board chose a location close to UNC.

“I’m actually really excited and supportive of this shift to Chapel of the Cross,” he says. “I think it’s a good location. It’s really close to Morehead Planetarium, which several years ago was a very successful early-voting site.

“Unfortunately, because of some renovations and changes in that building, Morehead is no longer available to be an early-voting site.”

Storrow adds this will allow the Carolina community and residents in a higher foot traffic area around Chapel Hill to have an easily accessible site to voice their opinion.

“I think it’s vital that we have a location accessible to the students, faculty, and staff at UNC-Chapel Hill,” he says. “It’s my long-term hope that we can create a consistent site; that it’s not changing every couple of years.

“I think Chapel of the Cross might provide us with that opportunity to create a really consistent site.”

Storrow says recent action by the North Carolina legislature only increases the need for a voting site near campus.

“The General Assembly changed the law several years ago to not allow out-of-precinct voting,” he says. “If we truly care, and want, and expect that all residents of our community are going to participate in the election and have access to participate in the election, means that having an early-voting location that’s either on campus or adjacent to campus is really vital.”

The out-of-precinct voting restriction only applies on Election Day, not to early voting.

Early voting will begin on Thursday, October 22, and finish up on Saturday, October 31. The Board of Elections office in Hillsborough will be open for early voting Monday through Friday from nine o’clock to six o’clock and on both Saturdays from nine o’clock until one in the afternoon.

The satellite locations will be at Chapel of the Cross, Carrboro Town Hall, and the Seymour Center, on Homestead Road. These locations will all be open for voting from noon until seven o’clock Monday through Thursday, noon until six on Friday, and nine until one o’clock on both Saturdays.

Storrow says he is hopeful the 2016 election will include Sunday voting hours.

The ballot this fall will include nine candidates for four seats on the Chapel Hill Town Council, three candidates for Chapel Hill Mayor, eight candidates for four seats on the Chapel Hill – Carrboro City School board, and five hopefuls for three seats on the Hillsborough Board of Commissioners.

http://chapelboro.com/news/election/early-voting-sites-selected-for-october

Gerrymandering North Carolina

The Supreme Court has issued a ruling in favor of independent redistricting commissions in Arizona.

In a 5-4, ruling the United States Supreme Court ruled citizens in Arizona did not remove power from state lawmakers by voting to establish an independent redistricting commission, according to Jane Pinsky – Director of the North Carolina Coalition for Lobbying and Government Reform.

“The people of Arizona have the right to set up an independent redistricting commission,” she says. “The commission in Arizona was created by citizen initiative, and it was a clear sign that the people of Arizona wanted a fair and impartial process.

“And they didn’t think they were getting that through their legislature.”

Pinsky adds citizens organized a grassroots effort to gain signatures in favor of the referendum’s placement on the ballot. For any North Carolinians with that idea, Pinsky has some bad news.

“We don’t have the right to do a ballot initiative,” Pinksy says of the organizational structure in North Carolina.

Pinsky says since residents of the Tar Heel state do not have the option of placing a citizen-driven referendum on the ballot, the next step for North Carolinians is to lobby elected representatives.

READ MORE: Lawmakers Set to Introduce Bipartisan Redistricting Reform

Pinsky adds gerrymandering is an overt way of disenfranchising voters.

“One of the things that we see that has happened as all of this redistricting and all the gerrymandering is that citizens feel like their votes don’t count,” she says. “And, unfortunately, in [about] 40-some percent of the legislative races in this state, that’s absolutely true.

“There was only one person on the ballot.”

For decades Democrats controlled North Carolina politics and could draw the state and congressional districts as they pleased. Now Republicans are in charge and don’t seem apt to giving up the power that comes with their partisan pen.

Local Democratic House Representative Verla Insko says changing demographics may play a large role in the upcoming elections.

“The Republicans that gerrymandered your districts are not all as safe as they used to be,” she says. “House districts are more vulnerable to moving back and forth between Republicans and Democrats.

“The challengers in the House may have an easier path, but that’s also true for the Senate that the population shifts are going to put some pressure on the current Republicans to look seriously at a commission.”

READ MORE: Redistricting Continues to Stir Legal Battle in NC

A bill passed the state House in 2011 to create an independent redistricting commission before dying in the Senate. Earlier this year, a large number of bipartisan lawmakers again called for an independent commission. Democratic House Representative Graig Meyer says support in the House is overwhelming from both sides of the aisle.

“There’s broad bipartisan support for this in House,” he says. “There are more than 61 cosponsors of the House bill, so that indicates that it would pass the House easily. The Senate has blocked this type of effort for several years. And it’s pretty clear to me that the Senate is blocking it because the Republicans who lead the Senate are doing everything that they can to hold on to the power that they have.

“That would include blocking [an independent commission] as well as all of the voting restrictions that they have put into place.”

Pinsky says a particular note in the Supreme Court ruling drew her attention.

“There’s a line that says that ‘the Constitution has an animating principle that people themselves are the originating source of all powers of government,’” she says. “In other words, the power doesn’t come from the legislators. The power comes from us.

“Anything that, I think, impedes our ability to freely exercise that power is wrong and undermines our democracy.”

While the Supreme Court ruling does not have a direct impact on North Carolina, it does support the momentum behind independent redistricting commissions that have been established in states including Arizona, Iowa, and Ohio.

It seems the biggest impediment to an independent commission in North Carolina is Republican Senate President Phil Berger.

Senator Berger’s office has not responded to repeated request for comment.

http://chapelboro.com/news/state-government/gerrymandering-north-carolina

More Than 400 Disenfranchised By New NC Voting Rules

Democracy North Carolina says 454 voters who would have had their ballots counted under 2012 election rules were not able to vote in the May Primary thanks to two key changes made by the General Assembly.

North Carolina’s sweeping election reform bill was signed into law by Governor Pat McCrory in 2013. Among the many changes to voting rules, the new law did away with same-day registration during Early Voting and no longer allowed voters to cast a provisional ballot if they show up to vote outside their assigned precinct.

Democracy North Carolina says new analysis shows the laws are disproportionately affecting minority and Democratic voters.

Black voters, who make up 22 percent of the state’s registered voters, counted for 39 percent of those whose ballots were rejected. Democrats are 42 percent of all registered voters, but were 57 percent of those disenfranchised by the new rules.
The data was released one month before the deadline to register to vote in the November general election. Voting advocates say it’s important to double-check voting status now because the October 10 deadline is your last chance to register.

To check your registration status and see a sample ballot, go to NCvoter.org.

You can find the full report from Democracy North Carolina here.

http://chapelboro.com/news/state-government/400-disenfranchised-new-voting-rules

NC GOP Unpopular – But Are They In Danger?

Pat McCrory is unpopular and the North Carolina General Assembly is extremely unpopular – but it doesn’t look like there will be much of a shakeup in Raleigh when North Carolinians go to vote this November.

That’s the upshot of the latest survey from Public Policy Polling, released last week.

Read the report here.

Governor McCrory’s approval rating is only 39 percent and his disapproval rating is 45 percent – marking the 12th month in a row that McCrory has been in negative territory. PPP director Tom Jensen says that may be because voters see McCrory as a weak governor: only 27 percent believe he’s calling the shots in Raleigh, while 43 percent think the General Assembly is in control. (And voters don’t see that as a good thing: only 18 percent of North Carolinians approve of the job the NCGA is doing.)

But voters disapprove of Democrats in the NCGA as much as they disapprove of Republicans – so even though the NCGA is in Republican hands, there doesn’t appear to be a groundswell of support for Democrats yet. Republicans actually lead a generic legislative ballot 43-41, which Jensen says would give the GOP essentially the same majority for the next two years that it enjoys today. (That’s in spite of the fact that most of the policies being passed in the House and Senate are themselves unpopular as well.)

Tom Jensen joined Aaron Keck on the Tuesday afternoon news to discuss the poll.

As for the 2016 election, Jensen says to expect some close races: McCrory currently holds a 44-42 lead over attorney general Roy Cooper, the presumptive Democratic challenger (owing partly to Cooper’s low name recognition, Jensen says), while Hillary Clinton leads the most likely Republican candidates in the presidential race by equally narrow margins.

http://chapelboro.com/news/election/nc-gop-unpopular-danger

Chilton: “I’ll Sign Same-Sex Marriage Licenses”

Former Carrboro mayor Mark Chilton confirmed today that if he’s elected as Orange County Register of Deeds, he will sign same-sex marriage licenses, in defiance of the North Carolina state constitution.

Listen to Chilton’s conversation with WCHL’s Aaron Keck.

Listen here.

In a statement on Facebook, Chilton said that his primary duty as an elected official is to uphold the U.S. Constitution above any state or local statutes that may contradict it – and that North Carolina’s ban on same-sex marriage and civil unions is “clearly contrary” to the federal Constitution, especially in the context of recent Supreme Court and lower-court decisions. (The Supreme Court has not yet weighed in directly on the question of whether the U.S. Constitution guarantees same-sex couples the right to marry, but lower courts in recent months have struck down state-level bans in Virginia, Texas, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Ohio, and Utah, all on constitutional grounds.)

Prior to today, Chilton had declined to say whether or not he’d issue same-sex marriage licenses – saying he preferred to focus on his other qualifications for the job, including an extensive background in real estate. But in an earlier interview, he told WCHL that he would give precedence to the U.S. Constitution above all other laws in his role in the office. “To my way of thinking,” he said last week, “the number one responsibility of all elected officials in North Carolina is to uphold the federal Constitution, above and beyond all other purported laws or constitutions.”

Chilton is one of three candidates for the position; the other two are former deputy Register of Deeds Sara Stephens and current incumbent Deborah B. Brooks. All three are Democrats, so the winner of the Democratic primary on May 6 will be the presumptive winner in the November general election. (Neither Brooks nor Stephens have weighed in definitively yet on the same-sex marriage issue, but Stephens told WCHL, “As Register, I feel it would be my responsibility to take actions within my power to ensure that our office is a friendly and welcoming place to all people.” Brooks has not issued same-sex marriage licenses in her tenure as Register of Deeds.)

Chilton’s full statement is below:

I’ll sign same sex marriage licenses if I am elected Orange County Register of Deeds.

I wasn’t really trying to talk about this issue at first in the Chilton for Register of Deeds race, because my campaign and qualifications for the office run much deeper. But the media keeps asking, so let me say it loud and clear: “Amendment One” is clearly contrary to the United States Constitution.

The Supreme Court’s decision in the Windsor case last year does not answer every remaining question about same sex marriage, but when read in the context of Roemer v. Evans, Perry v. Arnold Schwarzenegger etc., no one can seriously believe that that portion of our state constitution complies with the United States Constitution.

Some will no doubt argue that it is somehow not within the power of a county Register of Deeds to make decisions about the constitutionality of such matters. But let me remind them that the oath of office for all elected officials in North Carolina calls upon the officials to support and maintain the Constitution and laws of the United States, and the Constitution and laws of the State of North Carolina not inconsistent therewith. This oath means three important things in this context:

1. The United States Constitution is the supreme law of the land and no act, statute, ordinance, state constitution, public school rule, city parking ordinance or any other rule or act of any level of government in this country may operate in derogation of the Constitution of the United States of America. That is, we support and maintain the state constitution but only to the extent that it is consistent with the Federal constitution.

2. Because it is a part of the oath of office for all elected officials in North Carolina, it is clear that we all understand that there will continually be moments where an elected official must interpret and apply the United States Constitution – drawing out the distinction between the state and federal constitution actually goes to the very heart of the oath of office.

3. Thus, it is not merely within the power of the Orange County Register of Deeds to interpret the constitutionality of Amendment One, it is the obligation and solemn duty of the Register of Deeds to do so.

In light of all of the above, if I am elected Register of Deeds of Orange County, I will not enforce the federally unconstitutional parts of the North Carolina state statutes and constitutional provisions which purport to prohibit the issuance of same sex marriage certificates.

 

http://chapelboro.com/news/election/chilton-ill-sign-sex-marriage-licenses

Burroughs To Run For BOCC

CHAPEL HILL – In a press release Tuesday evening, Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools board member Mia Burroughs confirmed she’ll be running for a seat on the Orange County Board of Commissioners.

Burroughs will run for the Democratic nomination for the seat currently held by Alice Gordon, who’s stepping down at the end of her term. That seat represents District 1, which essentially covers Chapel Hill and Carrboro. Burroughs is the first Democrat to announce her candidacy for that seat.

Burroughs is in her second term on the school board, where she’s served as both chair and vice-chair.

Click here for her campaign website.

The filing period begins next week for those interested in running for local and state office. Burroughs says she’ll officially file on Tuesday, February 11.

http://chapelboro.com/news/election/burroughs-run-bocc

Money Makes The Vote Go ‘Round, But Less So In Chapel Hill

Working for WCHL, I get paid* to keep my attention focused on Orange County—but every time I happen to look outside, I find myself reminded just how good we have it here.

Case in point: campaign spending.

Every election cycle, it seems, we always have the prerequisite bit of handwringing over the insidious creep of money into our little democracy. Four years ago it was Matt Czajkowski outspending Mark Kleinschmidt; two years ago it was Lee Storrow pulling donations from non-Chapel Hillians or Jon DeHart taking money from developers; this year it was the NCGA cancelling “voter-owned elections.” Campaign spending was lower in 2013 than 2011, but even so you still ended up with one candidate, George Cianciolo, who raised around $10,000. Ten thousand dollars was sort of a magic hand-wringy number back in 2011, when three Council candidates topped it. Less handwringing this year, but that only goes to prove that $10,000 is becoming the norm.

Money money money money money money money!

Amirite?

Well, maybe. Ten thousand dollars sure is a lot to drop on a Council seat. Chapel Hill’s an affluent town, but even so, there aren’t many of us with that much loose change. Sure, it’s mostly donations, but that still means you need the free time to go around soliciting donors—and you also need to be well-connected enough to know the donors first. Once it starts costing $10,000 to run for Council, that rules out most everybody in town. You’ll end up with the power elite.

That’s concerning—but it’s not all bad either. If you have to raise $10,000 for a Council seat, it does severely limit the pool of possible candidates—but then again, raising ten grand also signals that you’re a committed candidate who’s good enough to draw support from a wide range of people. (Provided there are loophole-free limits on individual donations, of course. Little things.)

But all that aside—

Is ten thousand really that big a deal?

Take Lansing. Lansing, Michigan, is my hometown, with a population of about 110,000 and a mayor named Virg Bernero. You may know Virg if you listen to Ed Schultz on WCHL; he’s the go-to guest when Ed wants to rip on Michigan’s union-busting Republican governor.

But here’s the upshot. Bernero just ran for reelection in 2013. His only opponent on the ballot was a former City Councilman named Harold Leeman, a nice guy whose primary motivation for running was simply to give voters a viable choice. Leeman campaigned lightly: in an interview with the local paper just before the election, he even admitted (in so many words) that he had no real chance of winning.

This was Virg Bernero’s only opponent.

And Virg Bernero went out and raised A HUNDRED THOUSAND DOLLARS.

More than $110,000, in fact. (Here’s the data.) $110,000 equates to one dollar for each Lansing resident. To put it in Chapel Hill terms, that’d be the equivalent of Mark Kleinschmidt raising $60,000 to beat Tom Henkel.

And what did Virg Bernero get for his trouble?

Less than ten thousand votes.

9,863 votes, to be precise. (Here’s the data.) Leeman finished exactly six thousand votes behind. Turnout was extremely low in Lansing too, as it turned out–so when all was said and done, Bernero raised about ten dollars for every vote he got. Meanwhile in Chapel Hill, Kleinschmidt received 4,165 votes, almost half Bernero’s total, spending almost no money at all. (I can’t be sure, but I think Henkel’s supporters may have actually outspent him.)

And Bernero’s fundraising bonanza is only the tip of the iceberg. Down in Alabama they just spent millions—millions!—to choose the Republican candidate for a U.S. House seat. That’s just a primary, mind you; the general election is still a month away. And while that race was an outlier—it was a Tea Partier taking on a traditional business conservative, so money came pouring in from all over—it’s still a good illustration of just how pricey these things can get.

So whenever we lament the rising cost of electoral politics in Orange County, it’s well to remember (if only to feel a little better about the way things are) that we still have it pretty good around here, all things considered.

Relatively, at least.

* No footnote. I just felt like that needed an asterisk.

http://chapelboro.com/columns/aaron-keck/money-makes-the-vote-go-round-but-less-so-in-chapel-hill

OC Board Of Elections Director Lays Out Voting Changes

CHAPEL HILL- Board of Elections Director Tracy Reams came before Orange County Commissioners last week to update officials on the many recent changes to state election law.

All voters must provide photo ID by 2016, Reams said, but the process of educating voters about the new law will start next year.

“We will be required to ask people ‘Do you have ID?’” said Reams. “They won’t be required to provide it in 2014, but we have to ask if they have it. And if they do not they will have to sign a declaration to let us know they do not have it.”

While the voter ID law has received much attention both locally and nationally, Reams says other, less publicized provisions of House Bill 589 will have a significant impact on local voters.

Beginning in January of 2014, a new rule prohibits voters who go to the wrong precinct from casting provisional ballots. Reams said all voters who ask will be handed provisional ballots, but the votes won’t be counted.

“If a voter went to another precinct and they were not assigned that precinct, they were allowed to vote a provisional ballot,” said Reams. “With the enactment of House Bill 589, if anyone votes outside their correct precinct we cannot count that ballot for any contest at all.”

And Reams said the timing of North Carolina’s presidential primary is now wholly dependent on when South Carolinians go to the polls.

“We will now be required to follow what South Carolina does. If they hold their primary prior to the first Monday in May, then we have to hold our primary the Tuesday following them,” said Reams. “The past four to six primaries at least, they’ve held their primary in January or February. That tells us that more than likely we’re going to have a primary in February or March. So we will probably be early voting over the Christmas holidays.”

Though it’s too early to say how much that will cost, she told commissioners the expense will be significant.

“It will be an additional cost for the county, because we’ll have to hold a presidential primary in addition to all the other primaries that will be held, as traditionally, in May.”

In addition, the option to vote a straight party ticket has now been removed from ballots, and the process for requesting and filling out absentee ballots has changed.

Commissioner Mark Dorosin called the new rules an effort by the Republican-led General Assembly to disenfranchise voters.

“Clearly what’s happening here is an attempt to suppress voter turnout,” said Dorosin. “We had a very high turnout in early voting in the last two presidential elections, so that’s been cut. We had a tremendous amount of same-day registrations, so that’s been cut.”

Board Chair Barry Jacobs thanked the Orange County Board of Elections for what he called their bi-partisan spirit of cooperation. Currently the three-member board is comprised of one Democrat and two Republicans, as appointed by the state Board of Elections.

In light of the many changes that will impact local voters, Jacobs encouraged the board to seek extra funding for voter outreach.

“If you need more assistance, if the Board of Elections thinks of ways you would like to be more creative to try and reach voters, please tell Miss Reams and have her ask it as part of the budget process,” said Jacobs.  “There is nothing more important in a democracy than people having the opportunity to cast their ballot.”

You can read the full text of House Bill 598 here:

http://www.ncga.state.nc.us/Sessions/2013/Bills/House/PDF/H589v9.pdf

And the report presented to the Board of Commissioners here:

http://www.co.orange.nc.us/occlerks/130917.pdf

Orange County Board of Elections website: http://www.co.orange.nc.us/elect/index.asp

http://chapelboro.com/news/election/oc-board-of-elections-director-lays-out-voting-changes