Publisher's note: This post, by Susan Myrick, was originally published in the Elections & Voting section of Civitas's online edition.
As we wait to see what will happen in the courts with the provisions of the Voter Information Verification Act (VIVA) that were struck down by U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, the General Assembly can still act to help protect the votes of all citizens in North Carolina.
With a focus on two of the provisions quashed by the court of appeals - the requirement for all voters to present a voter photo identification and the elimination of Same Day Registration (SDR) - the current legislature could enhance existing law in a way that would begin to require all voters meet the same voter verification requirements. Keep in mind that certain voters, including SDR voters, bypass the necessary address verification process that all other voters must undergo when registering to vote. The General Assembly could:
- Require official photo ID for Same Day Registration (SDR) voters. The ID must include the voter's current address. There is not enough time for these voters to complete the verification process, so it stands to reason that they should be required to undergo a higher level of scrutiny when it comes to identifying themselves when casting a ballot. These unregistered voters have the option of avoiding the stricter ID requirement by following the established registration process - in other words, registering to vote before the 25-day deadline.
- Mandate that all SDR ballots should be voted as provisional ballots. If the SDR voter's verification card is returned undeliverable a second time, the case should be forwarded to law enforcement for investigation of voter fraud and the voter's ballot would not be not counted. All SDR voters must complete the voter verification process before the ballot is approved and counted. To accommodate SDR verification, extend the election certification schedule since there is not enough time to complete the verification process as the schedule stands now.
- Acknowledge the complexity of the task of registering voters at the same time they cast their ballots and conduct SDR in one of the following ways: 1) Conduct SDR only at County Election Board offices, not at remote Early Voting sites, because the permanent County Board of Elections staffers are more experienced in handling new voters registering to vote and voting at the same time; or 2) Require that all SDR registrations must be handled by full-time election board employees and not by temporary help, contractors or seasonal employees.
- Mandate that if an SDR voter cannot meet the voter ID requirements, he or she may complete a provisional ballot, but must return no later than Election Day to provide proof of identity to have the ballot counted.
- Require official photo ID for inactive voters. The ID must include voter's current address. Inactive voters are voters who have had at least two mailings returned to the board of elections as undeliverable. Most inactive voters are people who have either moved or died. Again, greater scrutiny is required in these cases, because if these voters have moved then they haven't gone through the voter verification process since moving from their previous address. If an inactive voter cannot meet the voter ID requirements, he or she may complete a provisional ballot, and will then be required to return no later than Election Day to provide proof of identity to have the ballot counted (as mentioned above.)
- Change the voter verification process to verify the voter's residence address and not merely the mailing address, as the current system allows. Exceptions can be made with proof from voters that they can't receive mail at their residence address. This would be comparable to the DMV requirements for obtaining a driver's license.
- Require all changes to a voter's registration record be signed by the voter. North Carolina has always required a voter's signature to make changes to his or her voter records. This year, however, a month before the November election the state board administrative staff changed policy and allowed voter changes from the DMV without signature. This change is another step toward universal registration and is reminiscent of the state board's move to allow online voter registration by the Obama campaign in 2012.
- Require local boards to report all suspected cases of voter fraud resulting from invalid SDR and regular registration and verification failure to the local District Attorney's Office, and require the State Board of Elections to provide 30/60/90-day reports on these numbers to the legislature and to track the cases that are submitted to district attorneys.
We can hope that one day North Carolina eliminates Same Day Registration and implements a common-sense voter ID law, but until then, let's not ignore the fact that North Carolinians deserve and expect secure elections. We know these things:
- There is not enough time for Same Day Registration voters to go through the same verification process that is required of all other voters
- SDR is a convenience, not a necessary element of voting
- Inactive voters have failed the state's attempt to verify their address
- At this time the voter verification process is the only voter security measure required by the state of North Carolina
These common-sense proposals simply attempt to shore up election security and help to verify that voters are who they say they are and that they live where they say they live. It's the least we can do.