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Voter ID led to confusion during NC municipal elections, report says

Election officials assist voters at the Wayne County Public Library during early voting in Goldsboro Friday morning October 21, 2022.
Jonathon Gruenke
Election officials assist voters at the Wayne County Public Library during early voting in Goldsboro Friday morning October 21, 2022.

Confusion and misinterpretation of North Carolina’s new photo voter ID requirement posed challenges for voters and poll workers during the 2023 municipal elections, according to a report from Democracy NC.

The nonprofit voting rights organization found that some voters who did not present an acceptable photo ID did not receive an ID exception form from poll workers, while other voters had their ballots rejected incorrectly by county boards of elections.

The monitoring report, released on Monday, is based on observations of election advocates who attended the pre-canvass and canvass-monitoring process in 35 counties during the 2023 municipal elections in November.

Democracy NC produced the report in partnership with other nonprofit, voting rights organizations including the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, Common Cause NC, Forward Justice and others.

Voting rights organizations are concerned about the implementation of the voter ID requirement and the confusion among election administrators and voters leading up to the upcoming 2024 primary and general elections.

Carolina Public Press spoke Monday with the two authors of the report, Carol Moreno, a policy and programs manager and Keith Chapelle, a policy program associate at Democracy NC, both of whom were involved in gathering the findings.

They said they were surprised by how differently the counties interpreted the voter ID exceptions on requirements, because the North Carolina State Board of Elections gave “clear guidance.”

“These changes across Senate Bill 747 and voter ID implementation are a lot for (county boards of elections and election administrators) to keep up with in a presidential election where there’s going to be a much higher turnout and a lot more cynicism among election term voters,” Moreno said during a phone interview with CPP.

Moreno and Chappelle were in Concord on Monday attending a State Board of Elections conference — the two-day Winter 2024 Elections Training Conference — for county boards of elections members and staffs from all 100 counties.

The September, October and November 2023 municipal elections “were the first elections under which the new photo ID laws and rules were in effect,” noted an email from Pat Gannon, the spokesperson for the state board.

“The State Board of Elections has and will continue to provide guidance to the county boards of elections about the photo ID requirement to ensure uniformity in the application of photo ID laws and rules across the state,” he said.

Municipal elections in odd years often see a lower voter turnout than state and county elections in even years. During the 2023 municipal elections, 613,834 ballots were cast, representing a turnout of about 13.8% eligible NC voters, according to the State Board.

Of these voters, 4,272 voters cast provisional ballots — 573 voterscast provisional ballots specifically due to not being able to provide valid photo identification and 268 voters did not return to the county board of elections to provide a copy of a valid photo ID with their provisional ballots.

But the report also showed that the majority of the voters who did complete a ID exception forms and turn them in to their county boards of elections had them approved.

Report findings

Voters who lacked an acceptable voter ID were “treated differently in different counties,” according to the findings in the report.

Most poll workers told voters who left their IDs at home to complete provisional ballots and return them to the county board of elections with their valid IDs before the day of canvass.

A majority of the voters who did not present a valid photo ID at the polls and did not complete an ID exception form, didn’t return to the county board office and their ballot was rejected.

Mecklenburg, Durham and Union counties had the highest number of voters not having their votes counted because they didn’t return to the county board of elections office with an exception form or valid ID.

Additionally, “conflicting interpretations” about the processing of ID exception forms resulted in some counties incorrectly rejecting ballots.

“I didn’t expect the implementation of the photo ID exception form to vary as much as it did,” said Chappelle, one of the authors of the report.

In Mecklenburg County, for example, the county board of elections rejected 30 ballots because the board unanimously determined that the voters “were lacking sufficient reasonable impediment or had incomplete reasonable impediment forms.”

“Insufficient” and “incomplete” did not mean that the forms were missing information, according to the report, instead it meant that board members rejected ballots based on their personal judgment.

Voters who did not have an acceptable photo ID should also have received an ID exception form, but in some cases highlighted by the report, this did not happen.

“It's on the poll worker, whether or not they are sharing the information about the ID exception form as they are supposed to,” Moreno said. “When that information isn't being shared, they are disenfranchising those voters.”

The elections training conference in Concord includes presentations about the voter ID requirement, such as a “Voter ID Exception Form Workshop to provide specific information about how to train poll workers to help voters who choose to fill out the Exception Form,” Gannon said.

The Board also gave presentations about the requirement at the 2023 Summer Elections Conference, he said.

Democracy NC contacted more than 250 provisional voters with photo ID issues who needed to return to the county board of elections office.

One voter in Nash County, a 95-year-old Black, female voter who cast a provisional ballot, was not provided with an ID exception form after “she had misplaced her ID due to memory loss issues.” The poll worker at the location did not inform her that she could get a free photo ID from the county board of elections.

“That’s voter suppression,” the voter’s son told Democracy NC. “We weren’t told about an ID exception form. Now they’re penalizing her.”

Democracy NC has had a good relationship “in terms of providing feedback to the state board,” Moreno said.

“The impression I've gotten from them (State Board) is that they seem to think the guidance was clear enough to all county boards who should be administering the law, in the same manner across all the counties in North Carolina.”

Voter ID rules and exceptions

Many NC voters will soon be heading to the polls on March 5 to vote in the primary elections where they will be asked to show a valid photo ID.

Most voters who have a valid driver’s license will need to show it, but those who don’t can show other acceptable IDs, such as a free photo ID from their county board of elections or a no-fee ID card from the NCDMV.

CPP recently reported on what voters will need when they head to the polls in March.

All voters will be allowed to vote with or without a photo ID, according to the Board. Voters who cannot provide a valid photo ID at the polls can fill out an ID exception form along with a provisional ballot. Certain exceptions are permitted and the form is also available for absentee-by-mail voters who cannot provide a valid ID.

The State Board is launching an advertising campaign consisting of two mailers to all NC households and paid advertising before the primary and general elections to “educate and remind voters to bring an acceptable form of ID with them to the polls, and that any registered voter who does not have an acceptable form of ID can get one for free from their county board of elections,” Gannon said.

This article first appeared on Carolina Public Press and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Carolina Public Press is an independent, in-depth and investigative nonprofit news service for North Carolina.

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