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N.C.’s elections system gets high marks

RALEIGH — A recent report from the Pew Charitable Trusts analyzed the election administration efforts of all 50 states during the 2008, 2010 and 2012 elections.
The report’s Election Performance Index (EPI) uses data from 17 key indicators — such as waiting time to vote, voter registration rate and voter turnout — to calculate a score for each state’s election administration policy and performance.
In 2012, North Carolina’s EPI of 76 percent was good enough to place us eighth in the country for election administration performance. Eighth place is very strong for North Carolina and we were far and away the highest ranked Southern state. North Dakota was number one with a score of 86 percent.
For the 2008 election, North Carolina had a score of 67 percent, which was only good enough for a ranking of 20th place. However, the good news is that we were one of only 12 states to increase its score by nine points or more between 2008 and 2012. That increase is how we jumped from 20th to eighth between the two elections.
A number of factors helped the state increase its performance to place us in the top 10 performing states in 2012. One big reason for the improvement was a sharp decline in voting wait time, which decreased from an average of 21 minutes in 2008 to 13.5 minutes in 2012.
Another key factor was an uptick in North Carolina’s voter registration rate. The report shows that the state had a registration rate of 88.8 percent in 2012 — the fourth highest in the country that year.
Finally, the Military and Overseas Voters Act passed in 2011 helped increase North Carolina’s performance between the two elections. That law aided in significantly decreasing the number of military and overseas ballots that were rejected or unreturned. In fact, the percent of unreturned ballots dropped from 33 percent in 2008 to 21 percent in 2012. And rejected ballots decreased from 8 percent in 2008 to less than 1 percent four years later.
As always, there is room for improvement and the report makes two suggestions for North Carolina’s election administration. The first is online voter registration, which in other states has shown to be more effective and drastically cheaper than paper registration.
The second suggestion is to participate in a data-sharing program with other states that would help keep voter information more current and accurate, cutting down on potential voting problems.
While North Carolina made great strides between 2008 and 2012, it remains to be seen how the new elections overhaul law enacted in 2013 might impact the state’s score moving forward. Many of the provisions in the new law — such as the elimination of out-of-precinct voting, ending same-day voter registration and increased requirements for absentee ballots — have the potential to significantly affect our score in the 2014 and 2016 elections.
All in all, the report shows that North Carolina’s election administration is doing a good job. While we can still do better, the citizens of our state can have confidence in our elections and faith that their vote matters.

Brent Laurenz is executive director of the N.C. Center for Voter Education and a contributor to TheVoterUpdate.com. He can be contacted at laurenz@ncvotered.com.

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