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From a voter ID requirement to a shortened early voting period and the end of same-day registration, here are five key points to know about a new elections law in North Carolina. Learn more

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What to Know About N.C. Voter ID, Elections Overhaul

By Brent Laurenz

RALEIGH - On Monday, Gov. Pat McCrory signed into law House Bill 589, which implements a photo ID requirement along with enacting a series of changes to North Carolina's election system.

Here is a look at some of the voting and election changes included in the new law, along with the date when they take effect.

Photo ID to Vote

Beginning January 1, 2016

All North Carolina voters will be required to show a government-issued photo ID in order to vote. Valid IDs include:

  • NC driver’s license, learner’s permit or provisional license
  • NC special ID card for non-drivers
  • US passport
  • US military ID or veterans ID card
  • Tribal card from federally or state recognized tribe
  • Out-of-state driver’s license (only valid if voter’s voter registration was within 90 days of the election)

Photo IDs not acceptable for voting:

  • Student IDs (public or private)
  • Government-employee IDs

All IDs must not be expired, except that voters over 70 can present an acceptable, expired ID so long as it was unexpired on the voter’s 70th birthday. Military and veterans' IDs can also be expired.

Photo ID requirement waived for voters:

  • With a religious objection to being photographed
  • Who are a victim of a natural disaster within 60 days of an election
  • Who use curbside voting

Free Voter ID

Beginning January 1, 2014

All North Carolina voters, or those registering to vote, who do not possess a valid photo ID outlined above may apply for a free ID from the DMV.

Early Voting Cut

Beginning January 1, 2014

The early voting period will be cut by an entire week, from 17 days to 10 days. Early voting will start on the second Thursday before Election Day, as opposed to the third Thursday as had been the law.

For elections beginning in 2014, county boards of elections must offer the same total number of hours that were offered in 2010 for future midterm elections and the same number of hours that were offered in 2012 for future presidential elections.

Same-Day Registration Eliminated

Beginning January 1, 2014

North Carolina voters will no longer be able to register and vote during the early voting period. All voters who wish to vote must be registered at least 25 days before an election. Registered voters can still use early voting sites to update their name and/or address.

Voter Pre-Registration Ended

Beginning September 1, 2013

Pre-registration for 16- and 17-year-olds will no longer be available. The program being eliminated allowed these teenagers to “pre-register” and then be automatically added to the voter rolls upon their 18th birthday.

Absentee Voting Changes

Beginning January 1, 2014

Citizens who vote absentee will need to fill out an official board of elections request form that must include the voter’s name and address, date of birth, an ID number (either a driver’s license number or last four digits of the voter’s social security number) and the voter’s signature (or the signature of voter’s near relative or verifiable legal guardian). Once the application form is received, the county board of elections will mail the voter a ballot.

The voter then completes the ballot and mails it back in the envelope provided. The envelope must be signed by two witnesses or one notary public. The voter can also choose to return the ballot by delivering it to an election official at an early voting site during any time that site is open for voting.

End Straight-Ticket Voting

Beginning January 1, 2014

Voters will no longer be able to vote straight-ticket, meaning they must mark the ballot for their preferred candidate in each race they choose to vote in.

End Out-of-Precinct Voting

Beginning January 1, 2014

Provisional ballots will no longer be counted if they are cast by a voter outside of their home precinct. Voters must cast their vote in their assigned precinct on Election Day.

Voters with no valid ID would cast a provisional ballot. But to have it count they would have to go to the elections board within six days (or nine days in presidential elections) and show a valid ID. (Voters without IDs could get them for free at DMV offices.)

End “Citizens Awareness Month”

Beginning January 1, 2014

The state will no longer have an annual “Citizens Awareness Month” designed to register voters and engage them in the electoral process.

More Poll Observers

Effective January 1, 2014

In addition to the current two observers allowed at each polling place designated by the chairs of county political parties, the new law allows county chairs to designate 10 additional at-large poll observers. The at-large observers must be residents of that county and would be able to attend any polling place in that county.

Voting Challenges

Effective January 1, 2014

On the day of a primary or election, any other registered voter of the same county may challenge that person’s vote. Under the old law, the person making the challenge had to be a registered voter of the same precinct.

Order of Parties on the Ballot

Effective January 1, 2014

The new law changes the order in which candidates appear on the ballot. Candidates will now appear in order beginning with the candidates from the sitting governor’s party, then alphabetical by party.

Paper Ballots

Effective January 1, 2018

The new law mandates that all voting machines must produce a paper record of the votes cast and provide a backup means of counting the vote that a voter casts. This will essentially ban touch-screen voting machines used by many counties in the state.

Extending Polling Place Hours on Election Day

Effective January 1, 2014

Removes authority from the county board of elections to keep polls open an hour longer in extraordinary circumstances. The power to make that decision is now with the State Board of Elections. However, the law retains the provision that any voter who is in line to vote at the time the polls close will be permitted to vote.

Voter Registration Changes

Effective January 1, 2014

When conducting voter registration drives, you can no longer compensate someone based on the number of voter registration forms submitted. When registering to vote, electronically captured signatures, including signatures on applications generated by computer programs of third-party groups, will not be valid.

Improve Voter Rolls

Effective January 1, 2014

North Carolina can work with other states to exchange information and cross-check data on voter registration and voting records to determine if a voter is registered in more than one state.

The new law also makes it easier to removed deceased voters from the voter rolls. (Effective October 1, 2013.)

Satellite Polling Places for Voters with Disabilities

Effective January 1, 2014

The new law standardizes the process by which a county Board of Elections can approve a satellite polling place other than the regular voting place for a particular precinct to accommodate the elderly and voters with disabilities.

Move Up N.C. Presidential Primary

Effective for the 2016 presidential primary

If South Carolina holds its presidential primary before March 15, the North Carolina primary will be held on the Tuesday after the S.C. primary under the new law. The S.C. primaries were in January in 2012. There would still be another primary in May for all other offices. The new law also allows the state Board of Elections to approve additional candidates to appear on the presidential primary ballot. Currently, all candidate names must come from the chair of each political party.

Filling U.S. Senate Vacancies

Effective January 1, 2014

If a vacancy occurs in the U.S. Senate, the governor appoints someone to fill the vacancy. The new law states that whoever the governor appoints must be from the same political party as the former senator.

Special Election Dates

Effective January 1, 2014

The new law states that any local government special election must be held on the same day as a state, county or municipal general election.

Candidate Withdrawal

Effective January 1, 2014

If a candidate that has filed to run for office wishes to withdraw that filing, he or she must do so prior to the close of business on the third business day prior to the filing deadline. If a party nominee wishes to resign as a candidate, he or she must do so prior to the first day ballots are sent to military and overseas voters.

Petition Signatures to Get On the Ballot

Effective January 1, 2014

The new law lowers the threshold for signatures for any candidate who wishes to get on the ballot by filing petition signatures in lieu of paying a filing fee.

Eliminates Judicial Public Financing

Effective immediately

The new law eliminates a popular program that provided public financing as a voluntary option for statewide judicial candidates. Leftover money in the public financing account will be used to provide a voter guide on judicial candidates until all of the money is exhausted. In addition, the law also repeals public financing for three Council of State offices and ends the political parties financing fund.

No Instant-Runoff Voting for Judicial Vacancies

Effective January 1, 2014

In 2010, current law dictated that North Carolina use instant-runoff voting to fill a seat on the N.C. Court of Appeals that became vacant less than two months before the election. Under the new law, instant-runoff voting is eliminated for these unique vacancies and the winner will be decided by a simple plurality of the vote.

Increase Campaign Contribution Limit

Effective January 1, 2014

The campaign contribution limit is raised from $4,000 to $5,000 under the new law. Beginning in 2015, each odd-numbered year the limit can be raised based on the Consumer Price Index.

Use of Corporate Money By Political Parties

Effective January 1, 2014

Under the new law, political parties will have greater flexibility in spending corporate contributions beyond just a headquarters building as the current law allows. For example, corporate money will now be able to be spent on up to three staff salaries.

Eliminates “Stand By Your Ad”

Effective January 1, 2014

Repeals the current law stating that advertisements run by candidates, political parties or outside groups for or against candidates must include language stating who sponsored the ad, such as "I am (or "This is____ ") [name of candidate], candidate for [name of office], and I (or "my campaign____ ") sponsored this ad" or "The [name of political action committee] political action committee sponsored this ad opposing/supporting [name of candidate] for [name of office]."

Less Disclosure of Outside Spending

Effective January 1, 2014

The new law relaxes disclosure requirements for outside groups spending money to influence an election. It eliminates the provision that outside groups must identify their top five donors on ads and also redefines when outside groups would have to disclose their spending on advertising to only include spending that occurs after Sept. 7 of an even-numbered election year. Current law mandates that they disclose this spending regardless of when it occurs.

Political Raffles

Effective January 1, 2014

Candidates and political committees will now be able to hold raffles to raise money.

Lobbyist Political Donations

Effective October 1, 2013

Registered lobbyists, already prohibited from making political contributions, will now be barred from collecting, possessing or delivering contributions intended for political candidates.

Term Limits for State Board of Elections

Effective January 1, 2014

The new law sets term limits for members of the State Board of Elections at two consecutive four-year terms.

Legislative Studies

The new law also calls for several studies to determine how to proceed on a myriad of campaign and election law issues.

Filling vacancies in the N.C. General Assembly and U.S. House of Representatives

Authorizes a study to look at methods of filling vacancies in the N.C. General Assembly and special elections for the U.S. House of Representatives

Precinct sizes

Authorizes a study to look at optimal number of voters per precinct to reduce overcrowding and long lines.

Second primaries

Authorizes a study to look at ways to reduce the need for second primaries/runoff elections. This includes potentially moving to a straight plurality to determine a winner, reducing the current threshold of 40 percent to avoid a runoff, keeping the 40 percent threshold but allow a smaller percentage if the margin of victory is high and having a different system for U.S. senator, governor and other statewide offices.

Voters who need assistance

Authorizes a study to determine how to improve protections for voters who need assistance in voting places, such as the elderly and voters with disabilities.

Electronic campaign finance reports

Authorizes a study to look at requiring campaign finance reports to be filed electronically.

Definition of a political committee

Authorizes a study to look at establishing a threshold for when a person or group must create a political committee.

Campaign finance reporting schedule

Authorizes a study to look at establishing a uniform campaign finance reporting schedule for political committees and outside groups spending money to influence elections. It also authorizes a study to look at eliminating the 48-hour report, which requires a political party or committee to disclose large contributions close to an election within 48 hours.