What to know about upcoming elections

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By Ginger Livingston

Voter fraud. Photo ID. Voter suppression.

These terms are dominating the discussion of North Carolina’s 2016 election process in the same way Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are taking over the primary process.

In 2013, the North Carolina General Assembly approved multiple changes to the state’s election laws that some say will lessen voter fraud and others say will suppress the vote of minorities and women.

The process is evolving. Court challenges have upheld some of the new laws but temporarily stalled others. A three-judge panel in mid-February ordered the General Assembly to redraw two congressional districts, saying the current boundaries are unconstitutional. The state asked the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene so the current congressional primary elections can continue.

With so many ongoing changes the following primer offers a few simple explanations about voting in North Carolina.

Fun fact: The United States Constitution didn’t originally define who was eligible to vote. That’s why so many states, especially in the South, used devices such as literacy tests and poll taxes to prevent blacks and other select groups from voting. Because so many states enacted barriers to voting, the federal government over time established more voting laws, including multiple constitutional amendments.

The 15th Amendment allowed blacks and other minorities to vote, 19th Amendment, enacted in 1920, gave women the right to vote. The 26th Amendment, enacted in 1971, allows U.S. citizens 18 years old and other to vote.

In North Carolina, a person must first register to vote in the county they are living in and must do so at least 30 days prior to the date of election. North Carolina lets people register when they are 17 years old as long as they turn 18 before the general election, which is Nov. 8 this year.

Convicted felons currently serving a sentence cannot register or vote. If a person has completed their felony sentence they can have their citizenship rights restored and can register to vote at that time.

North Carolina law requires voters to be registered in the county they are voting in.

Because Pitt County is home to East Carolina University and Pitt Community College, it’s not uncommon for election workers to encounter young voters who registered in their home county and are unable to cast a local ballot.

Those registered in other counties or states who want to vote in Pitt County must re-register.

The deadline for voting in the March 15 primary was Feb. 15. However, voters have until Oct. 14 to register to vote in the Nov. 8 general election.

A person can check their voter registration status and their precinct by visiting www.ncsbe.gov, and clicking on “Voter/Absentee Lookup” in the “Voter Web Tools” box.

A new voter or a voter who is re-registering must fill out a voter registration form. They can fill out the form when obtaining a driver’s license or state identification card from the Division of Motor Vehicles. They can also download the form from the North Carolina State Board of Elections website, www.ncsbe.gov, and mail it or drop it off by their local board of elections office.

Voters who live in Pitt County, but have moved to a new address, must update their voter registration information. They can do so by submitting a new voter registration form or if they still have their voter card they can fill in a change of address form on the right-hand side.

For more than a decade North Carolina has implemented a One-Stop, Early Voting, a process that allowed people to register to vote and cast a ballot for a specific period before election day.

The General Assembly eliminated same-day registration when it changed election rules in 2013. However, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit issued an injunction so, as of Mixer’s press time, same-day registration during the early voting period was still allowed. Another court ruling could change that at any time.

The General Assembly passed a new law in 2013 requiring voters to present an authorized photo identification when they go to vote. This is the first year it is required.

The state accepts six forms of identification. A North Carolina drivers license, a N.C. identification card, a U.S. passport or passport card, unexpired military identification card, a veterans identification card and certain tribal enrollment cards.

If a person doesn’t have one of these forms of identification they are eligible for a free N.C. identification card. They must get it from the N.C. Division of Motor Vehicles.

If a voter can’t get an acceptable photo ID but are registered to vote they can cast a provisional ballot. To do so they must sign a declaration describing the impediment they faced — work schedule, illness, lack of transportation, lacking proper documents, family obligations, disability and others — and provide their date of birth and last four digits of their Social Security number. They can also present a copy of their current voter registration card or an acceptable document with their name or address.

States must redraw their congressional districts after every U.S. Census to ensure each district has the same number of people. When the General Assembly redrew the districts in 2011, many complained minority voters were packed in to certain districts to prevent them from affecting votes in other districts. Opponents filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn the districts.

In early February a three-judge panel ruled the 1st and 12th congressional districts were unconstitutional and needed to be redrawn immediately.

The U.S. Supreme Court denied a stay of the ruling so on Feb. 19 the General Assembly approved new congressional district boundaries and set June 7 as the date of the new congressional primary. The presidential and other North Carolina primaries will still be held March 15.

What’s a primary election?

A primary is a preliminary election that allows voters to select a political party’s candidate for a certain office.

The March 15 primary election will have ballots featuring Democratic, Republican and Libertarian candidates. The ballot a voter receives is dependant of the political party they registered for. If the voter is unaffiliated, he or she can select which primary they want to vote in. They also have the option of selecting an unaffiliated ballot which will contain nonpartisan races and this year, a bond vote.

This is a presidential election year so voters will choose a presidential candidate.

The Republican Party presidential ballot includes 12 individuals who have since suspended or ended their campaign like Mike Huckabee, Rand Paul and Rick Santorum. Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Martin O’Mallory and Roque “Rocky” De La Fuente are on the Democratic ballot.

Voters also will select candidates for governor, lieutenant governor, U.S. Senate, U.S. House of Representatives, attorney general, labor commissioner, superintendent of public instruction, treasurer, state legislative seats, local elections and approval of a $2 billion bond.

The local Pitt County elections include the Board of Commissioners, district court judge and for the residents of Ayden, a vote on whether mixed beverages can be sold in the city limits.

Pitt County’s population is 175,354, making it the 14th largest county in the state and the largest in eastern North Carolina.

Because of its population, Pitt County is often divided between legislative district to achieve the required balance in populations.

Pitt County is divided between two congressional districts, two state Senate districts and two state House district. It also has six county commissioner districts, nine school board districts and 10 municipalities. A person can determine which districts they are in and preview their ballot by visiting www.ncsbe.gov.

North Carolina recognizes people may have reasons for going to the polls on election day. Historically, these voters were allowed to use an absentee ballot.

March 8 is the deadline to request an absentee ballot for the March 15 primary election. The request form may be mailed, faxed, emailed, or delivered in person.

The deadline for returning the primary elections absentee ballot in person in March 15. The deadline for returning civilian primary absentee ballots by mail is March 18. The deadline for returning military absentee ballots is March 21, a day before the final canvass of primary votes. The ballot must be returned to the county the voter is registered in.

Polling places are opened prior to election day, allowing people to vote without requesting an absentee ballot. This year, early voting for the March 15 primary begins March 1 and any voter can cast a ballot at any early voting site.

Pitt County has seven early voting locations. One is at East Carolina University’s Willis Building, 300 East First St. The site closest to Pitt Community College is the Winterville Fire Station community room, 2593 Railroad St., Winterville. Other early voting locations are Pitt County Agricultural Center conference room, 403 Government Circle; Center at Alice F. Keene Park arts and crafts room, 4561 County Home Road; County Office Building PATS conference room, 1717 W. Fifth St.; Farmville Community Center community room, 3886 S. Main St., Farmville; Ayden Community Building community room, 548 Second St., Ayden. All sites will have the same days and hours of operation: March 3-5 and March 7-11, 9 a.m. - 6 p.m.; March 12, 9 a.m.-1 p.m.

Precincts are open from 6:30 a.m. until 7:30 p.m.

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