With voter ID requirement, confusing congressional map, Rowan voters head to polls

Published 12:10 am Friday, March 4, 2016

With hundreds of ballots cast, Rowan County’s early voting period for presidential, statewide and local primary races started off strong Thursday.

Early voting started amid two significant controversies — one over photo identification for voters and the other focuses on unconstitutional congressional maps. Still, a reasonable number of people turned out to vote on the first day, according to Rowan Board of Elections staff. With all sites combined, about 640 people cast ballots in Rowan. A significant majority of the voters chose a Republican ballot.

Polls opened at 8 a.m. at three spots in Rowan County — the public library headquarters in Salisbury, Rockwell American Legion and public library south branch in China Grove. Early voting continues until March 12. Rowan ballots included races for president, U.S. Senate, governor, state representative and county commissioner. Kannapolis residents voted in the city’s local school board race. A $2 billion bond package, mostly for education, also appeared on ballots.

A brief computer problem when polls opened forced voters to fill ballots with personal information filled out by hand instead of the Rowan County Board of Elections’ computers. The issue affected less than 30 total ballots cast. By 8:20 a.m. computers were running normally.

More significantly, the 2016 party primaries were the first time North Carolina voters have been required to provide photo identification to cast ballots. Voters, however, are allowed to cast provisional ballots without photo identification.

A number of Rowan County residents who voted Thursday said photo identification isn’t a burdensome requirement.

“It doesn’t bother me at all,” said Ed Gurley, who voted in Salisbury on Thursday. “It seems like something everyone should have to show.”

When asked about voter identification requirements, Nadine Starnes, who voted in China Grove with her husband Gary, said voters “should absolutely have to show identification.” The pair said photo identification eliminates potential voter fraud.

Matt and Jeanne Pfeiffer, who also voted in China Grove, also felt strongly about the need for photo identification.

“There are too many dead people voting,” Matt Pfeiffer said. “Every state needs a picture ID requirement.”

Critics of voter identification, however, contend that the requirement erects an unnecessary barrier to voting for the impoverished.

If voters choose to cast a mail-in absentee ballot, they won’t be required to provide photo identification.

Controversy over congressional races will also have an affect on ballots during primary races. Primary races for the 12th and 5th congressional districts appear on some Rowan County ballots. A recent court ruling, however, declared North Carolina’s current congressional map unconstitutional. It led state legislators to draw new maps and propose June 7 as the date for congressional elections. As a result, the state won’t conduct any runoff races. All that’s needed is a plurality — one vote could be enough to win a race.

Despite the court ruling, counties across North Carolina had already purchased ballots for the 2016 primaries. State officials likely won’t count congressional races on the ballots because they include races under the unconstitutional maps.

“The courts waited too late,” said former County Commissioner Jon Barber, who was the first in line to vote at the Rowan Public Library Headquarters. “The lines have been drawn for years before now. Some people might believe the decision was politically motivated.”

Jesse and Kathy Tart, who voted in Salisbury, said the court’s ruling came at a “terrible time.”

Matt Pfeiffer agreed that the court’s ruling came at a bad time.

“It should have been right to start with,” Pfieffer said about the state’s congressional maps. “The problem should have been fixed long ago.”

North Carolina’s congressional maps gets redrawn too often, said Gurley.

Even with the congressional confusion, elections officials are advising voters to fully complete ballots.

For more information about early voting, contact the Rowan County Board of Elections at 704-216-8140.

On weekdays, all three early voting locations will be open from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m. On Saturday, March 5, all three sites will be open from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Only Rowan Public Library headquarters will host early voting on March 12 from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246.