IN NORTH CAROLINA:

25,215

votes were thrown out

because the voter was

unregistered

10,295

votes decided the

governor’s race

IN NORTH CAROLINA:

25,215

10,295

votes were thrown out

because the voter was

unregistered

votes decided the

governor’s race

IN NORTH CAROLINA:

25,215

10,295

votes were thrown out

because the voter was

unregistered

votes decided the

governor’s race

By Kim Soffen
Dec. 13, 2016

Last week, North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R) conceded to Democratic challenger Roy Cooper, who had held a small but growing lead over McCrory since Election Day.

That lead stands at less than half the number of votes that were tossed out because the voter was unregistered. It’s unlikely that these discarded votes would have changed the election’s outcome — they were disproportionately cast by African Americans and Democrats and would likely have furthered Cooper’s lead. But given the sheer volume of uncounted votes, it’s easy to imagine a scenario in which they could flip an election result.

In North Carolina and the 37 other states that don’t allow voters to register on Election Day, hundreds of thousands of people saw their votes tossed out because of their registration status. (In 2012, there were a quarter of a million rejected ballots nationwide.)

And that’s not including the unregistered Americans who didn’t even try to vote in the election, but who may have gone to the polls if an Election-Day registration option existed.  Numerous  academic  studies found that implementing Election-Day registration can increase voter turnout by 5 to 10 percent.

STATES WITH ELECTION DAY-REGISTRATION

ME

WI

VT

NH

WA

ID

MT

ND

MN

IL

MI

NY

MA

OR

NV

WY

SD

IA

IN

OH

PA

NJ

CT

RI

CA

UT

CO

NE

MO

KY

WV

VA

MD

DE

AZ

NM

KS

AR

TN

NC

SC

DC

OK

LA

MS

AL

GA

HI

AK

TX

FL

North Dakota doesn’t require voters to register. Laws in

California, Hawaii and Vermont were not in effect on

Election Day.

Source: Brennan Center for Justice

STATES WITH ELECTION-DAY REGISTRATION

ME

WI

VT

NH

WA

ID

MT

ND

MN

IL

MI

NY

MA

OR

NV

WY

SD

IA

IN

OH

PA

NJ

CT

RI

CA

UT

CO

NE

MO

KY

WV

VA

MD

DE

AZ

NM

KS

AR

TN

NC

SC

DC

OK

LA

MS

AL

GA

HI

AK

TX

FL

North Dakota doesn’t require voters to register. Laws in California, Hawaii and Vermont

were not in effect on Election Day.

Source: Brennan Center for Justice

These ballots are discarded after going through provisional ballot systems, which are implemented in most states. When people show up to the polls and their voter eligibility is questioned — most often because they’re not on registration rolls or, in some states, because they don’t have an acceptable photo ID — they’re given a provisional ballot. In the days and weeks following the election, state and local officials, sometimes alongside campaigns’ lawyers, decide whether each ballot should be counted.

This year in North Carolina, a state with some of the most thorough voting data, 60,647 provisional ballots were filled out; 35,646 of those ballots — 59 percent — were rejected. (Note that a small fraction of these were counted in part, when a voter was deemed eligible to vote in some elections but not others.)

PROVISIONAL BALLOT STATUS IN

NORTH CAROLINA

35,646 votes

Rejected:

Represents 100 votes

Accepted:

20,492 votes

Pending:

4,509 votes

PROVISIONAL BALLOT STATUS IN NORTH CAROLINA

Represents 100 votes

Rejected

35,646 votes

Accepted

20,492

Pending

4,509

The rejections came with a variety of reasons. Most often, the voter was unregistered, but in other cases, the voter went to the wrong precinct, had moved out of the county or filled out their ballot illegibly.

These justifications are similar to those in other states. One notable exception: Few North Carolinians saw their ballots rejected for failing to bring an acceptable photo ID. Earlier this year, a 2013 North Carolina law that created strict voter ID regulations was struck down by a federal court for “target[ing] African Americans with almost surgical precision.” In other states where voter ID laws remain intact, rejection on those grounds continues.

REASON FOR BALLOT REJECTION IN

NORTH CAROLINA

Unregistered:

25,215 votes

Represents 100 votes

Wrong precinct:

4,186 votes

Other:

6,245 votes

REASON FOR BALLOT REJECTION IN NORTH CAROLINA

Represents 100 votes

Unregistered

25,215 votes

Wrong

Precinct

4,186

Other

6,245

North Carolina’s high rejection rate of provisional ballots, largely because of the voter’s registration status, can be found across the country.

SOUTH CAROLINA

Of 9,583 provisional

ballots,

were rejected.

4,156

1,680 because

the voter wasn’t

registered

OKLAHOMA

Of 7,374 provisional

ballots,

were rejected.

5,419

5,325 because

the voter wasn’t

registered

LOUISIANA

Of 4,893 provisional

ballots,

were rejected.

3,633

Primarily because the

voter wasn’t registered

SOUTH CAROLINA

OKLAHOMA

LOUISIANA

Of 9,583 provisional

ballots,

rejected.

Of 7,374 provisional

ballots,

rejected.

Of 4,893 provisional

ballots,

rejected.

4,156

were

5,419

were

3,633

were

1,680 because the voter

wasn’t registered

5,325 because the voter

wasn’t registered

Primarily because the voter

wasn’t registered

While same-day registration policies have been implemented in about a third of states, they remain controversial.

Bob Brandon, the president of the Fair Elections Legal Network, a nonpartisan organization that seeks to eliminate barriers to voting, calls Election-Day registration “the ultimate failsafe.” If someone makes an error in their registration or misses the deadline, they aren’t disenfranchised.

Beyond that, proponents argue that registration deadlines are simply unnecessary. They “made more sense when we were doing things on paper because it took a certain amount of time to process those registrations,” said Dale Ho, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Voting Rights Project. Now that many states have online registration, “we don’t need that much time anymore to verify someone’s eligibility.”

People who oppose registrations on Election Day, who tend to be conservative, often cite fraud and logistical hassles. Same-day registrants don’t “go through the same address verification process as everyone else,” according to Susan Myrick, an elections and policy analyst at the Civitas Institute, a North Carolina organization that opposes same-day registration.

She argues that North Carolina’s limited same-day registration policy, which allows voters to register at the polls during early voting but not on Election Day, has led to so much fraud that some elections have been invalidated. There was little evidence to back up Myrick’s claim, and studies have found voter fraud to be nearly nonexistent. (The elections she referred to were invalidated largely due to vote buying, not fraud that could be attributed to same-day registration.)

Regarding logistics associated with Election-Day registration, “you have to add a lot of staff because it’s not just a simple ‘sign me up,’ ” Myrick said, describing the computer system in which voter information is entered.

But Brandon argues that it eliminates far more hassles than it creates. State secretaries of state on both sides of the aisle “swear by it as a positive for purposes of election administration,” he said. Since fewer people would have to cast provisional ballots, the litigation process for those ballots — which involves numerous lawyers and can easily take more than a month — would be substantially shorter.

This debate has taken a back seat to other voting rights issues, such as voter ID laws, which have caught fire in conservative states across the country. But with more and more states adopting Election-Day registration policies — three states have already passed laws to implement it ahead of the 2018 election, bringing the total to 15 plus D.C. — one more barrier to voting is quietly collapsing.

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