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GOP seeks to curb early voting

Posted March 28, 2013 1:32 p.m. EDT
Updated March 29, 2013 1:47 p.m. EDT

— Two bills filed by Republican lawmakers seek to cut back early voting and eliminate same-day registration in North Carolina.

Senate Bill 428, filed by Sen. Jerry Tillman, R-Randolph, would cut the early voting period from two weeks to one and would eliminate same-day voter registration. 

House Bill 451, filed by Rep. Edgar Starnes, R-Caldwell, goes even further. In addition to cutting early voting and same-day registration, it would also outlaw early voting on Sunday and straight-ticket voting.

"I just think that we will put some balance into the election process," Starnes said.

Democrats say such bills are intended to make it harder to vote and will disproportionately affect low-income, working and minority voters – groups that traditionally favor Democrats.

The Sunday ban, in particular, would affect popular "Souls to the Polls" voting drives at African-American churches.

"I think Sundays just should be – some things you just shouldn't do on Sundays, so I am just opposed to voting on Sunday," Starnes said.

Both parties have benefited from early voting in North Carolina, which has become increasingly popular. More than 2.5 million voters, or about 56 percent of those who voted statewide, used one-stop sites in the 2012 general election.

Straight-ticket voting is also a popular option for voters in both parties. In 2012, 1.4 million Democrats and 1.1 million Republicans in North Carolina voted a straight-party ticket. 

Tillman said his bill isn't meant to be partisan, noting all voters would still have equal access to the polls. Meanwhile, he said, keeping early voting sites open for two weeks costs money that could be better spent elsewhere.

"We're paying people for two weeks to run those election centers," he said. "Let's cut it to one week, and we can do the same thing. It's not to disenfranchise anybody."

GOP lawmakers opted last year not to spend $664,000 required to draw down $4.7 million in federal Help America Vote Act funds, which would have helped provide equipment and training to speed the early voting process.

Florida gained national attention for eight-hour lines and voting problems in the 2012 election after Republican lawmakers there enacted similar legislation to limit early voting. 

Republican Gov. Rick Scott supported Florida's legislation when he signed it in 2011, but after last fall's debacle, he's now proposing to roll back the restrictions and restore early voting hours.

House Minority leader Larry Hall said North Carolina legislators should make it easier to vote, not harder.

"They should let all North Carolinians have their constitutional right to vote, unfettered, and stop trying to take it away," said Hall, D-Durham. "Hopefully, the public's going to catch on and understand that people are trying to keep them from voting, and we're going to continue to push the idea with the public that they should be able to vote and elect their leaders."