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We need to make it easier to vote

Anne Gordon is a senior lecturing fellow at Duke University School of Law.
Anne Gordon is a senior lecturing fellow at Duke University School of Law.

North Carolina has a lot to be proud of after the Nov. 6 election – we voted in near-record numbers, elected a civil rights hero to the Supreme Court, and rejected amendments that would have eroded our separation of powers.

But we don’t have much to be proud of during the Nov. 6 vote.

Quite simply, it is still too hard to vote in our state. On that Tuesday I spent eight and a half hours poll monitoring outside the Chavis Community Center in Raleigh. At least 75 percent of the people who came to vote left without voting. Most were African-American.

Most were told that they were at the wrong location, although they could have voted there three days earlier during early voting. Many had waited in line for 45 minutes to find out this information. Still others hadn’t yet registered; again, although they could have registered three days earlier and voted the same day, that option was no longer available.

Several people walked away angry, and said they could not or would not vote, either because they had already used up their breaks from work, or because transportation restrictions made it too difficult. A common refrain was “Why do they make this so hard?!”

It doesn’t have to be. There are easy and reliable ways to ensure that more people vote, and that more votes are counted.

First, the legislature could make district-wide early voting available on election day, not just on early voting days. Where this isn’t possible, the Board of Elections needs to make it clear to people – before they stand in line – that their early voting location may not be the same as their election day location.

Second, same-day registration has to be available on election day, not just early voting. Right now 17 states and the District of Columbia offer same-day registration, which allows any qualified resident of a state to register to vote and cast a ballot on the same day. A prospective voter must bring a photo ID to an early voting site, and if the ID doesn’t have an address, they must bring a piece of official mail, for example, before they are registered and allowed to vote.

Third, election monitors must offer a provisional ballot where there is a question about a voter’s eligibility to vote. A father of two had almost made it to the parking lot when I ran up to him and said, “were you able to vote today, sir?” He turned to me and said, “they said I wasn’t registered, so I guess that’s that.” A single man came out a few minutes later and said, “they told me I’m at the wrong location, but to get to the right place I have to catch the bus back into downtown and make a change, and that’ll take me an hour.”

Both were frustrated, but neither knew what they could do to make it better. So I entertained the kids while the dad got on the phone with election protection (1-888-OUR-VOTE) and found his registration; a few minutes later I drove the single man to his correct polling place. Both walked out of their polling place with “I Voted” stickers on their chests and huge smiles on their faces.

Voter protection volunteers like me worked hard all day to help people, but we couldn’t do it all ourselves. We still saw dozens of votes wasted because of inefficiency and confusion. This is its own kind of voter suppression, and while it may not be as blatant as a poll tax or a mob, the message is clear: we don’t care about your vote. It’s time to change that.

Anne Gordon is a senior lecturing fellow at Duke University School of Law.