Report: 50,000 voters may have been ‘silenced’ by N.C. election law changes

Some 50,000 North Carolinians may have been prevented from voting this fall due to a combination of new voting restrictions and unprepared poll workers, according to a study from the nonpartisan government watchdog group Democracy North Carolina.

The findings are based on an analysis of 500 reports from poll monitors in 38 counties and 1,400 calls to a voter-assistance hotline, which the group says found “excessively long lines” in more than a dozen counties on Election Day, with some voters having to wait as much as three hours.

The long wait resulted in some voters simply walking away without casting a ballot, the analysis says.

“I have waited one hour, 35 minutes just to get within an hour of the voting booth,” the study quotes a Winston-Salem voter as reporting to the hotline. “It’s so sad that probably 25 percent of the voters gave up and left after the first hour or so of waiting.”

“We had to snake the line so drastically around the [Taylors] precinct that it was up to a three-hour wait,” said Wilson County Republican Party Chair Gary Proffitt.

The report points to the repeal of straight-ticket voting, which previously allowed voters to mark one box to automatically select all candidates of a certain party, as contributing to the long lines at polling places. Voters this year had to indicate their choice in each race, increasing the time it took to complete a ballot and adding to the wait, the analysis contends.

Even after enduring long lines, some voters were turned away because they were not at their assigned polling place, the report states. In previous elections, those voters might have been able to cast out-of-precinct ballots.

“Polling places were understaffed and underequipped, and many poll workers were confused about how to apply the new rules about provisional ballots,” the report says.

The analysis also notes that while some 21,000 voters used same-day registration during the 2010 early voting period, that option was repealed by the GOP-led legislature last year.

Republican supporters of the changes have pointed to the more than 2.9 million voters going to the polls this year – a record in terms of sheer numbers for a midterm election in North Carolina, but the same turnout rate as 2010 – as a sign that the law is not discouraging participation.

Still, Democracy North Carolina says the thousands of voters who may have been turned away at the polls should serve as a “wake-up call” to election officials, state lawmakers and the courts.

“If the 2013 law is not overturned, large-scale changes will be needed to avert a disaster in the 2016 presidential election,” the group warns.

The law in question is the subject of a lawsuit in federal court, which is scheduled to go to trial in the summer of 2015.

The full report from Democracy North Carolina can be seen here.

More:

This year’s voter turnout was on par with 2010

While they lead in voter registration, women are still underrepresented in the N.C. legislature

No big changes for N.C. politics after this year’s vote

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Beasley wins N.C. Supreme Court race after recount, concession by Robinson

Incumbent N.C. Supreme Court Justice Cheri Beasley officially won re-election to her seat on Tuesday after challenger Mike Robinson conceded in the wake of a recount that found Beasley’s Election Day lead hold.

“The recount conducted by the State Board of Elections did not result in a change in the outcome of the contest between Justice Beasley and me,” Robinson, a Winston-Salem attorney, wrote to his supporters. “As a result, I have called Justice Beasley and congratulated her on her victory and return to the Supreme Court for an eight-year term.”

According to the State Board of Elections, the statewide recount found Beasley’s edge decrease by just 17 votes, to 5,410 out of more than 2.4 million ballots cast, a final margin of about .2 percent.

“Justice Cheri Beasley is honored, grateful and proud to be able to serve on this state’s highest court for the next eight years,” the Beasley campaign said after her win was certified.

Appointed to the N.C. Supreme Court in December of 2012 by Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue, Beasley previously served on the N.C. Court of Appeals and as a district court judge in Cumberland County.

Although elections for the N.C. Supreme Court are nonpartisan, political parties often endorse candidates for the bench, as was the case in this race, with the Democratic Party supporting Beasley and the Republican Party supporting Robinson.

Beasley’s win means the state’s highest court will have four justices – including Chief Justice Mark Martin – who were endorsed by the Republican Party and three justices who were endorsed by the Democratic Party.

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Clintons, Bush top popularity poll in N.C.

Democratic political power couple Bill and Hillary Clinton both enjoy relatively high favorability ratings in North Carolina, as does former Republican president George W. Bush.

According to the High Point University poll, former president Bill Clinton is viewed positively by 61 percent of North Carolinians, with former U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton seen in a favorable light by 52 percent of respondents.

Bush has a favorability rating of 51 percent, slightly above the 49 percent for President Barack Obama.

Hillary Clinton has by far the highest approval rating among potential 2016 presidential contenders, most of whom are still largely unknown among North Carolina voters. For instance, 51 percent have no opinion of Florida U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and 58 percent have no opinion of Massachusetts U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

The exception is New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who is viewed favorably by 33 percent of North Carolina adults, while seen negatively by 31 percent, with the remaining 36 percent having no opinion.

“When thinking about presidents and possible presidential candidates, the favorability ratings show that there are two tiers in terms of who is known by people in North Carolina,” says Dr. Martin Kifer, director of the HPU Poll. “The present and former presidents are familiar to most people, while most potential candidates for president—with the understandable exception of Hillary Clinton—are not yet well known to the public.”

The poll also finds that in the wake of this year’s highly competitive and costly U.S. Senate contest in North Carolina, 73 percent of respondents say both Democrat Kay Hagan and Republican Thom Tillis ran negative campaigns.

Full poll results can be seen here.

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North Carolina’s Butterfield to lead Congressional Black Caucus

Democratic Rep. G.K. Butterfield of North Carolina’s 1st District has been chosen as chair of the Congressional Black Caucus.

First elected to Congress in 2004, Butterfield easily won re-election this fall, garnering 73 percent of the vote in the heavily Democratic district covering 24 counties in the northeastern part of the state. A native of Wilson, Butterfield previously served on the N.C. Supreme Court.

“I look forward to working with caucus members as we implement a new agenda in the 114th Congress – one that respects the past, but boldly confronts the future,” Butterfield said in a release.

Butterfield will lead a 45-member black caucus, the largest in its four-decade history. He succeeds Rep. Marcia Fudge of Ohio who was named chair in 2013. Butterfield is the second North Carolinian to chair the Congressional Black Caucus after former Rep. Mel Watt led the group from 2005-2007.

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Election not over yet: Recounts underway in 14 races across N.C.

Two weeks after Election Day, the outcome of more than a dozen races in North Carolina is not quite decided.

Recounts are underway in fourteen contests across the state after the deadline to request a recount arrived Tuesday evening.

According to the State Board of Elections, counties have until Thursday to finalize a recount in the N.C. Supreme Court contest between Cheri Beasley and Mike Robinson. Unofficial election-night returns found Beasley leading Robinson by less than 6,000 votes out of almost 2.5 million cast.

Also headed for a recount is the race in N.C. Senate District 15. Unofficial election-night results in that contest found Republican John Alexander leading Democrat Tom Bradshaw by just 701 votes out of 82,000 ballots cast.

Other races undergoing a recount are:

• N.C. District Court (District 5 – Blackmore Seat)

• N.C. District Court (District 17A – Wilkins Seat)

• Alleghany County Board of Commissioners

• Currituck County sheriff

• Dare County Board of Commissioners (District 2)

• Forsyth County Board of Education (At-Large)

• Lee County Board of Education

• New Hanover County Board of Commissioners

• Pitt County Board of Education (Districts 1 & 2)

• Surry County Clerk of Superior Court

• Weldon City Schools Board of Education

• Town of Ranlo unfortified wine referendum

The State Board of Elections will meet next Tuesday to certify results for all of this year’s federal, judicial and multi-county contests in North Carolina.

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