- Associated Press - Monday, May 5, 2014

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) - During Tuesday’s primary elections for one of the most closely watched U.S. Senate races in the country, voter advocacy groups will be trying to gauge the effects of a new state law that requires photo IDS at the polls, reduces the number of early-voting days, and eliminates same-day registration.

Eight Republican candidates are competing to be the candidate who will challenge Democratic incumbent Sen. Kay Hagan in November. The contest is an important one for the GOP, which is trying to regain control of the U.S. Senate in this year’s midterm elections - and it is the first election in North Carolina held since the elections overhaul took effect.

Several provisions of the new law are being challenged in at least four federal and state lawsuits.

A key part of the law - requiring voters to show photo IDs - won’t start until 2016, although voters Tuesday will be asked if they have photo IDs. If they don’t, they can still vote, but will be asked to sign an acknowledgment of the ID requirements and will be given information on how to obtain a photo ID, in some cases for free.

Other provisions of the law will be fully enforced, including one requiring voters to cast their ballots in their appointed precinct. In the past, voters casting ballots in the wrong precinct would more than likely have had their votes counted.

“This new law creates more barriers - especially to youth and people of color, poor and working families,” said Bryan Perlmutter, spokesman for Ignite NC, one of the groups that trained volunteers to monitor the polls.

Approved last summer by the General Assembly, the law reduced the number of days of in-person early voting from 17 to 10 and ended same-day registration during that early period starting with Tuesday’s election.

The law also allows political parties to appoint additional poll observers to monitor precinct activities, and gives citizens wider latitude to challenge the actions or legitimacy of a fellow voter. Under the old law, any such challenge had to come from the precinct of the voter in question. The new law allows the challenge to come anywhere from within the voter’s county.

Republican lawmakers who backed the measure said it was meant to prevent voter fraud, which they allege is both rampant and undetected in North Carolina. Independent voting rights groups joined Democrats and libertarians in suggesting the true goal was to suppress voter turnout, especially among traditional Democratic constituencies such as blacks, the young, the elderly and the poor.

Perlmutter’s group and Democracy NC have teamed up to train more than 400 volunteers to monitor precincts and talk to voters.

He said one goal is to educate voters about the new law, although volunteers also will document any occurrences of voters being turned away and conduct exit surveys that will measure voters’ knowledge of the new laws and gauge their experience with voting.

“We want them to be on the ground to provide information about how the new law is being implemented as well as collect survey results,” Perlmutter said. “We want to look for a pattern to see how this law is being implemented so we can make sure that everybody has their right to the ballot box.”

He said the coalition is working with a political science professor at UNC-Charlotte who is going to help analyze the data.

“We just really want to understand what the gaps are and what people really do not understand so we can do a better job of public education,” he said.


Associated Press Writer Gary Robertson in Raleigh, N.C., contributed to this report.

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