Local Elections Matter

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ost of us haven’t had time to settle into 2020 as yet, but 2020 is not going to afford us the luxury of doing so, particularly when it comes to politics.

The 2020 election train is on the tracks and rapidly gaining speed, with polls opening for one-stop voting in North Carolina barely a month from now.

In North Carolina we’ve seen a flurry of changes, largely dictated by court rulings, on things ranging from district lines to Voter ID requirements. Voter ID passed the state legislature, was shot down in the courts, passed as a constitutional amendment, rewritten and passed again by the legislature. In keeping with the spirit of on-again/off-again rulings on whether state General Assembly and congressional lines are legal or not, Voter ID has fallen back into the “off again’’ category.

In a court order last week U.S. District Judge Loretta Biggs blocked the ID law, reasoning that it was probably passed with at least some racially discriminatory intent. N.C. Attorney General Josh Stein, a Democrat, says he’ll fight the decision, but in a statement said, “In the federal litigation over North Carolina’s photo identification voting requirement, the North Carolina Department of Justice will appeal the district court’s recent decision to enjoin the law pending a trial. However, to avoid any further voter confusion in the primary election in which absentee voting begins in just 11 days and to ensure that the primary election proceeds on schedule and is administered in an orderly manner, the Department will not seek a stay of this injunction before the primary. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit will review the district court’s decision, but we anticipate that photo identification will not be required to vote in the primary per the district court’s decision.”

So, no ID is required in the primary, but that could very possibly change for the General Election.

Another change involves voting equipment. County commissioners recently appropriated funds to cover changes mandated by the state; voters will still mark their ballots electronically, but the machine will print a paper ballot that can be read and tabulated by a scanner. The new machines will also be friendly to people with disabilities. ADA compliant voting devices now allow voters to increase font sizes, change screen contrast, hear choices read aloud or use their own accessible device like a sip and puff aid in order to cast a ballot independently.

Board of Elections chair Kirk Stephens said, “I have confidence in the equipment and the process; I have confidence in the integrity of the process.”

The biggest change of all, perhaps, is the calendar. North Carolina was hoping to make more of a splash nationally and rolled its primary back to March. That splash may not be very large, as Alabama, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont and Virginia will vote the same day (not to mention American Samoa).

Regardless, it means voters in Jackson County and across North Carolina who aren’t registered need to get it in gear extra early this year. If you’re mailing in your registration, you need to make sure it’s postmarked by Friday, Feb. 7. By law you must register 25 days ahead of the next election, and Feb. 7 is that day. Voters can also use same-day registration during the early voting process; same-day registrants must attest to their eligibility and provide proof of residence.

The Jackson BOE has submitted its one-stop plan to the state BOE for approval. Dates and times submitted are, beginning Feb. 13, Monday-Friday from 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, Feb. 29 from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sites are the Elections Board office, Western Carolina University, Wolfetown Gym in Cherokee, and the Cashiers and Cullowhee Recreation Centers.