How Eliminating Same-Day Registration Has Disenfranchised North Carolinians
By Mike Meno, ACLU of North Carolina
Isabel Najera was excited to vote in her first election as a U.S. citizen in 2014. The North Carolina mother of four did everything right to cast a ballot that would count. She registered in time, went to the right polling place, and showed up to cast a ballot during early voting. But as she testified in federal court Tuesday, through no fault of her own, Isabel’s registration was lost and her vote did not count.
Isabel is one of dozens of witnesses testifying this week and next in the trial over North Carolina’s voter suppression law, without which Isabel’s vote would have counted. The ACLU and Southern Coalition for Social Justice are challenging provisions of the law that eliminated same-day registration, out-of-precinct voting, and a full week of early voting. Hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians used these voting options in previous elections before they were repealed by the state’s Legislature in 2013, in what many observers called the worst voter suppression law in the nation.
Isabel was born in Mexico and came to the United States 21 years ago as a legal permanent resident. She worked as a migrant farm worker before getting a job with her local Headstart, teaching 2- and 3-year-olds life and socialization skills. While working, Isabel also earned her GED and eventually an associate’s degree in early childhood education.
On July 30, 2014, Isabel became a U.S. citizen. Later that year, Isabel went to her local DMV to obtain a commercial driver’s license so she could transport Head Start students on field trips and visits to doctor’s offices. While there, she was asked if she would like to register to vote. She said yes. It was the first week of October, and she was told she had registered in time to vote in the upcoming election.
On October 29, during North Carolina’s early voting period, Isabel went to cast her ballot at her assigned polling location. But when she got in line, election workers could not find her registration. “They said I wasn’t on the list and they sent me to a different line with a different person,” she testified. “I spent two hours over there and they never found my name on the list.”
Ultimately Isabel cast a provisional ballot, but her vote was not counted – even though she did everything right. In previous elections, Isabel could have used same-day registration to re-register and cast a ballot during early voting—ensuring that her vote would count. For thousands of North Carolinians, same-day registration has served in past elections as a failsafe against unforeseen problems, guaranteeing they could still cast a ballot even if they had to update a piece of voter registration, or, as in the case of Isabel, their voter registration was lost through an error.
More than 90,000 North Carolinians used same-day registration in the last two presidential elections. In 2014, the first election under North Carolina’s voter suppression law, more than 11,000 registration forms were submitted during early voting. In years past, the people who submitted those forms could have registered and voted on the same day. But under North Carolina’s new restrictions, their votes no longer count.
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