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notes that while some 21,000 voters used same-day registration during the 2010 early voting period, that option was repealed by the GOP-led legislature last year.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