- Associated Press - Friday, January 22, 2016

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - North Carolina voters again have two options for casting ballots in the March primary that were repealed for 2014 elections - at least for now.

The General Assembly had stopped allowing people to register to vote and cast ballots on the same day during the early-voting period. And they also decided that the votes of people who went to the wrong precinct on election day would no longer be counted.

But those changes were put on hold until a trial court judge rules on challenges that have been filed against them. A U.S. Supreme Court ruling confirmed that delay last April, but it’s gotten more attention recently as the primary nears.

Same-day registration and out-of-precinct voting were used by more than 100,000 people the last time they were permitted in statewide elections, in November 2012.

The revival of these two options, however, hasn’t been trumpeted by election officials or activists encouraging people to vote. Part of the reason is that the repeals could be enforced again at any time. The federal judge presiding in the case held a trial six months ago but hasn’t yet ruled. He could determine there’s nothing wrong with ending same-day registration and out-of-precinct voting and cancel the injunction blocking the repeals.

“The judge could rule tomorrow,” said Bob Hall, executive director of Democracy North Carolina, which works to increase voter participation. The organization has focused efforts on teaching people about new photo identification requirements to vote and on encouraging people to vote early. “We’re not actively promoting the options of same-day (registration) and out-of-precinct (voting) because at this point it’s so up in the air.”

Even if Judge Thomas Schroeder rules soon in favor of ending the two options, attorneys could ask that the ruling be stayed for the primary because it is only weeks away and could create more confusion. In-person early voting begins March 5. Without same-day registration, the traditional primary voter registration deadline is Feb. 19. The primary is scheduled for March 15.

The State Board of Elections website says same-day registration and out-of-precinct voting are allowed for the primary due to a court ruling but that each “option remains the subject of ongoing litigation in federal court.” The state board will mention that the options are available in voter guides it plans to send to 4.5 million households during the first week of February, board counsel Josh Lawson said.

Groups that have sued to restore same-day registration and out-of-precinct voting said that repealing them disproportionately affected black and Hispanic residents and use of the options coincided with higher voter turnout.

Same-day registration began in North Carolina in 2007. Out-of-precinct voting laws had been in place since 2001 and allowed registered voters who showed up at the wrong precinct in their home county to fill out a provisional ballot. Their choices in elections not specific to their home precinct then would be counted.

Republican critics of these previous laws said voters should be responsible for going to their home precincts on the day of the election. They argued same-day registration increased the risks for voter fraud and added work for election officials verifying the registrant’s identity before the election.

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