@NCCapitol

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House Dems push for election changes

Posted March 17, 2015 1:03 p.m. EDT
Updated March 17, 2015 6:32 p.m. EDT

— House Democrats are seeking changes to state election laws that they say will make voting easier in 2016.

House Minority Leader Larry Hall unveiled the two bills at a news conference Tuesday.

House Bill 239 would restore the week of early voting that was cut from state law by the Voter Information Verification Act, the Republican election overhaul bill passed in 2013. The proposal would be effective in 2016.

Prior to VIVA, state law allowed up to 17 days of early voting, including three weekends. The overhaul reduced that to 10 days, including two weekends.

Republican sponsors of VIVA said the change would make early voting more consistent throughout the state's 100 counties and save money for county elections boards. They pointed to record-breaking early voting turnout in 2014 as proof the reduction in days had not kept people from the polls.

But Hall, D-Durham, said waits of several hours at many early voting sites almost certainly dissuaded some people from casting ballots.

"To get to a voting and polling place and have to stand in line for a period of time longer than their lunch hour," Hall said, "that is discouraging. That will prevent people from voting.

"If that was not the intent, let's restore this additional time for early voting," he added.

House Bill 240, also sponsored by Hall, would allow photo identification from public and private colleges and universities in North Carolina to be acceptable forms of voter ID beginning next year.

According to Hall, more than 44,800 people ages 18 to 25 are registered voters but do not have state Division of Motor Vehicles-issued identification that would allow them to vote.

Rep. Marvin Lucas, D-Cumberland, said universities and colleges already conduct background and credit checks that are more stringent identity checks than the DMV conducts.

"Photo ID is what it was all about. We want to identify the students as being who they said they were," Lucas said. "A picture ID does identify who the voter is, so I don't quite understand why we don't allow that."

Hall, Lucas and Rep. Garland Pierce, D-Scotland, admitted the bills face an uphill battle against the same Republican leaders who enacted the original changes two years ago.

"These bills have a chance if the public gets behind them," said Hall. "We already know how we got in this situation: The majority perceived it would be an advantage to them to maintain power. We want the people to have the power."

Both bills were quickly shunted off to the House Rules Committee on Tuesday afternoon, where they are expected to remain for the rest of the legislative session.