Raleigh, N.C. — Voters began casting their ballots in the 2014 primary election Thursday at scores of locations across the state. The early voting period runs through May 3, and hours vary by county and location.
The 2014 primary sees the implementation of a number of new laws that govern who can vote, when and how. The most significant change is that voters can no longer register and vote on the same day during the early-voting period. Those who are not registered already – the deadline was April 11 – won't be able to cast a ballot in the primary.
Lawmakers also shortened the early-voting period from 17 days to 10 days, although counties were told to provide more sites or keep them open longer to provide people the same number of hours to cast an early ballot. Some counties obtained waivers from that requirement, but Wake County wasn't among them.
"We felt it was important for the county, especially a large county, to make sure we had the same number of hours," said Cheri Poucher, director of the Wake County Board of Elections. "The hope is that, because it's compressed, we're reaching voters at the time and we're open at the time when voters are more inclined to vote."
Poucher said most early voters cast ballots on the first day or the final days of the early period, so she doesn't think the shorter period will adversely affect people's chances to vote.
"I think it's sad too many folks take for granted our ability to vote without fear of punishment or repercussion, so I'm excited when I get the opportunity to vote," said Scott Goodson, who was among more than 275 people who cast a ballot at the the Board of Elections office in downtown Raleigh Thursday.
On Saturday, early-voting sites will open at the Herbert C. Young Community Center in Cary, the Knightdale Recreation Center in Knightdale, the Lake Lynn Community Center in Raleigh and the W.E. Hunt Recreation Center in Holly Springs. In previous elections, Wake County had an early-voting site at the Chavis Community Center in southeast Raleigh. Because that is less than 2 miles from the Board of Elections office, Poucher said, elections officials decided to move that site to Knightdale to get better coverage of the county.
Poll workers will use the elections in 2014 and 2015 to remind voters that they will have to have valid photo identification beginning in 2016. During this year's election, poll workers will tell voters what kinds of ID will be accepted and how they can get a free one. Voters who don't have an ID will be asked to sign a form that elections officials can use as a follow-up to assist people in obtaining identification before the 2016 election.
Richard Krumhanso showed up at the Board of Elections office with his passport in hand, even though a photo ID isn't required to vote in the primary.
"What they're doing this time around is they're saying, 'In 2016, you're going to need to show one of those IDs. Do you understand what I'm telling you?' But they didn't ask me to show it," Krumhanso said.
Absentee voting changes as well. There is now an official form that voters or relatives of voters must use to request an absentee ballot, and voters must complete their ballot in front of two witnesses (or one witness and have it notarized). The new law excludes employees of nursing homes and other adult care facilities from serving as witnesses to absentee ballots, a move designed to eliminate any influence caregivers might have on a vote.