Patrick Gannon: N.C. back in the pack on election laws

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 14, 2015

RALEIGH – The new election laws the Republican-led General Assembly passed in 2013 in many ways put North Carolina more on par with other states across the country.

Up to that point, the Tar Heel State had some of the least restrictive election laws. Now, it probably falls somewhere in the middle of the pack. Here’s how our state compares today, according to information from the National Conference of State Legislatures:

Voter ID: North Carolina is one of 34 states that have passed voter identification requirements, and such requirements are in force in 32 states. Pennsylvania’s voter ID law was struck down and won’t be appealed. North Carolina’s takes effect in 2016, barring action by the courts to the contrary. A trial in a lawsuit challenging aspects of the 2013 law, including the voter ID requirement, is expected this summer.

Early voting: Although processes differ from state to state, North Carolina is one of 33 states, plus the District of Columbia, that offer some type of in-person early voting. The 2013 election law also shortened North Carolina’s early voting period by a week. Now, early voting can begin no earlier than the second Thursday before an election, so the period is 10 days, down from 17. Across the country, early voting ranges from four days to 45 days, with the average being 19 days, so North Carolina’s period is on the shorter end.

Same-day registration: Fourteen states plus the District of Columbia either offer or will soon allow same-day registration, through which voters can register and cast ballots on election days, rather than having to register days or weeks before an election. North Carolina eliminated that perk in 2013, joining the majority of states without it.

Because of pending legal challenges to the 2013 law, some question remains about whether same-day registration will remain off-limits in North Carolina. Here, qualified residents who want to vote in an election must register no later than 25 days before that election.

Straight-ticket voting: Ten states allow straight-ticket voting, including Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Texas. When North Carolina eliminated straight-ticket as part of the 2013 law, it joined the majority of states.

Preregistration for teenagers: North Carolina used to allow 16- and 17-year-olds to preregister to vote, so their registrations would automatically become active when they turned 18, but abolished that practice in the 2013 law. The goal of such laws is to encourage young people, who consistently have the lowest turnout rates, to vote. Now in North Carolina, a soon-to-be voter can’t register unless they will turn 18 before the next election.

About seven states allow 16-year-olds to preregister, and nine other states allow teenagers to register if they are either 17 or 17 and a half. Many states, like North Carolina, allow registration for anyone who will turn 18 by the time of the next election.

Online Voter Registration: About half of the states either already allow some form of online registration for voters or are implementing it soon. North Carolina has never had online registration, but is exploring how it could work here.

As you can see, the recent election changes haven’t put North Carolina on an island of its own. The problem in the view of many critics is that North Carolina once had among the least restrictive – or more voter-friendly – sets of election laws.

That is no longer true.

Patrick Gannon writes columns for Capitol Press Association.