What you need to know about voting in the 2016 primary

Posted January 20, 2016

Early voting

— The first votes in North Carolina's March 15 primary will be cast later this month, just as a lawsuit hoping to derail some of the state's new voting rules heads back to federal court.

Election/Decision 2016 graphic NC approves 27 candidates for presidential primary ballots Voters this year will encounter new photo identification rules for the first time, although advocacy groups point out that there are ways for those without a valid photo ID to cast a ballot.

"We don't want anyone to be confused," said Gary Sims, director of the Wake County Board of Elections.

While there are safeguards to ensure everyone can vote, people should make it easy on themselves and election workers, Sims said.

"Don't gamble on your vote. If you have the proper identification, then just bring it. If you don't have it, it's going to take you longer to vote," he said.

Voters who are not overseas will cast their ballots in one of three ways: by mail, early in-person or on primary day. Here's what you need to know in order to make your voice heard this spring.

Election Parties - Republican and DemocratRegister to vote: Voters who are not already registered have until Feb. 19 to get their name on the voter rolls for the March 15 primary.

Current state law has eliminated same day registration during the early voting period, but according to the State Board of Elections the "'same-day registration' process is currently permitted due to a preliminary injunction granted under a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, but this option remains the subject of ongoing litigation in federal court." In other words, the option remains available during early voting, for the time being, but could go away depending on when the court makes a final ruling**. Same day registration is not available on Election Day.

Flapping flag Voters to decide on $2B bond package Flapping flag Bond opposition getting organized Sims says that people who have moved or are in the process of moving would be better off updating their voter registration by Feb. 19.

"Do that little extra to make it as smooth as possible," Sims said.

While there are procedures in place to handle people who move close to an election, he said it is easier for voters and local boards alike to update registration in advance of the election.

Provisional ballots, absentee ballotsVote by mail: Local boards of elections will start sending out by-mail absentee ballots next Monday. Voters have until 5 p.m. March 8 to request an absentee ballot.

Voting by mail is a two-step process. Voters must first fill out a ballot request form and return it to their local board of elections. The local board will then send back voting materials.

NCSBE Voter Guide front NCSBE: North Carolina Voter Guide When a voter casts his or her ballot by mail, he or she must either have two people sign as witnesses or have the form notarized. The voter can either mail the form back or hand-deliver it to the local board.

Voting rights advocates point out that this is a way to vote that does not require a photo identification, although the form will ask you for either the number from a state-issued ID or the last four digits of your Social Security number.

Early voting siteIn-person early voting: The period for what was once called "one-stop" voting begins on March 3 statewide, although specific times, days and locations vary by county. The last day of early voting is March 12.

In virtually all counties, the local board of elections office is an early voting location. Some larger counties, such as Wake and Durham counties, have regional satellite locations for those who want to vote early.

As they will be on primary day, voters will be asked to show photo identification. According to the State Board of Elections, acceptable forms of ID include:

  • A driver's license issued by the North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles, including a learner's permit or a provisional license. IDs that are four years out of date may still be used.
  • A current passport issued by the United States.
  • A veteran's ID card issued by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. A veteran's card with an expiration date must be unexpired. Those without an expiration date are also acceptable.
  • A United States military ID card issued by the Department of Defense.
  • A tribal ID card for a federally recognized tribe or a tribal ID card for a state-recognized tribe approved by the State Board of Elections.
  • A driver's license or identification card issued by another state or the District of Columbia. In order to use this card, the voter must have registered to vote 90 days or fewer prior to the election in question.

There are exceptions to the voter ID requirement, most prominently a feature that allows voters to declare they had a "reasonably impediment" to obtaining a photo ID.

Reasonable impediments include things such as not being able to get to the DMV to obtain an ID card or the inability to get off work during DMV hours. Those who vote citing a reasonable impediment will cast a provisional ballot. Provisional ballots are counted during the canvass in the week following the election.

As noted above, same day registration is currently available during the One Stop period thanks to a federal court order. However, that status could change depending on how the court rules in pending voting cases.

VotingElection Day: The primary is March 15. On election days, voters are asked to cast their ballots at a local precinct.

As of early January, there was conflicting information on the state board's website. However, the correct information reads:

"Voters who appear on Election Day in the correct county but in the improper precinct may cast a provisional ballot, which will be counted for all contests in which the voter was eligible to participate. This 'out-of-precinct voting' is currently permitted due to a preliminary injunction granted under a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, but this option remains the subject of ongoing litigation in federal court. Please check back at this website for updates.  Click here to locate your assigned precinct polling location.

As with the same-day registration rules, election officials say voters would be better off not needing take advantage of the lingering out-of-precinct voting rules because they could change once the federal courts make a ruling.

The voter ID rules for Election Day, and exceptions, are the same as for the early voting period.

Sims points out that this is the first election that North Carolina has required photo ID for those voting on Election Day or during the early period.

"Work with our precinct officials. They're community volunteers," he said, acknowledging the voter ID requirement is controversial for some. "They didn't make the law. They're just trying to make democracy happen."


** An original version of this story misstated the status of same-day registration.


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  • Lisa Grabowski Jan 25, 2016
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    An ID card may not be req'd by the Constitution, but ID is needed even to enroll in school, or go to the doctor (even the free or low-cost clinics), etc., etc. I've had an ID card (or license) since 16. Before that, I always had access to my birth certificate, SSN card, and other legal documents my mother needed to sign me up for things or get me through life. Once an individual reaches a certain age, photo ID is required for the higher level of opportunities -- whether driving, buying a beer, whatever -- voting included. Point being, it may not be "required," but it is a must have to do anything in adult life.

  • Fanny Chmelar Jan 25, 2016
    user avatar

    I wonder what'll happen when someone shows up with an ID with purple hair shaved on one side but, now that they've entered the professional world, they look completely different. Or similar visual situations (bald from chemo, etc.)
    I've gone through the airport and had the TSA folks look at me weird and I knew exactly what I need to do: take off the ball cap and remove my eye glasses. They sign my papers and let me proceed.
    Will volunteers be trained well enough to not screw this up?

  • Steve Clark Jan 21, 2016
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    View quoted thread

    I see your point, but I'm not sure we need to amend the constitution every time we make a new law (statute). I do want to thank you, because I haven't really looked at what the State Constitution say about voting before; interestingly, Art VI, Sec 4, states that a person registering to vote must also be able to read and write any section of the State Constitution in English.

    Anyway, there are 'implications' in the State (and US) Constitution; for example "elected by the people". We HAVE to have some way of making sure that a person voting in NC, actually lives in NC, and that they are not a felon, and that they aren't actually just visiting from Germany, or wherever. Bottom line, we have to be able to 'prove' who we are for any Number of reasons... I don't see why there is SUCH a push-back (oddly from only one party) about proving who you are.

  • Larry Wiandt Jan 20, 2016
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    So, just wondering, how do these people that have no ID but any product with Pseudoephedrine in it, or how do they use a credit card since they ask to see an ID sometimes. Also how does a person with no id get a job, or if they have no job how do they get government benefits? This list seems pretty long of things a person can't do with out an ID... Unless, of course, they are an illegal immigrant.

  • Pat A. Jan 20, 2016

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    Of course obtaining an NC driver's license is the smoothest way to go, and I highly recommend it for anyone who is able to do so. But that requires proof of identity that not everyone has. It's just not as simple as it sounds.

  • Ray Ubinger Jan 20, 2016
    user avatar

    Voter ID isn't the worst idea in the world, but it needs to be in the Constitution, not just a statute. The legislature has no constitutional authority to pick and choose who may vote.

  • Ray Ubinger Jan 20, 2016
    user avatar

    "Why not just go down to the DMV"
    Because possessing an ID card isn't a requirement that's contained in the Constitution. And the Constitution says ALL criteria for being a valid voter shall be contained in the Constitution. (NC Constitution, Article VI, Section 1.) So my question for you is, Why not amend the Constitution?

  • Steve Clark Jan 20, 2016
    user avatar

    View quoted thread

    Please don't read a 'snarky' tone in my post - I'm being sincere. Why not just go down to the DMV, get your new NC drivers license (or ID) card, and register to vote normally? You have plenty of time and it seems like the smoothest way to go.

  • Pat A. Jan 20, 2016

    OK, two more things. Picky, picky, sorry. Early voting is a form of absentee voting, so it still is called one-stop because you request your ballot, receive the ballot, and vote all in one stop. The paragraph about out of state driver's licenses should include the word "within" for clarity, you must have registered to vote within the last 90 days.

  • Pat A. Jan 20, 2016

    The SBOE site also says, "Voters who appear on Election Day in the correct county but in the improper precinct may cast a provisional ballot, which will be counted for all contests in which the voter was eligible to participate. This “out-of-precinct voting” is currently permitted due to a preliminary injunction granted under a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, but this option remains the subject of ongoing litigation in federal court." Both of these statements are found on the home page, under Election Law Changes.