DURHAM, N.C. (8/24/2023) – Voters’ experiences during the 2022 Midterms confirms the continued need to improve voting policies, Early Voting, voter registration, and access and transparency around voting, according to a new report from voting rights groups Democracy NC and Southern Coalition for Social Justice (SCSJ).
Democracy NC and SCSJ, with support from the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and state partners within the NC Election Protection Coalition, staffed the statewide non-partisan voter assistance hotline (888-OUR-VOTE) throughout the 2022 Midterm election cycle. The 2022 Midterm Election Protection report includes analysis of over 3,500 calls voters made to the hotline last year. Our evaluation of North Carolina voter and volunteer experiences found:
- Early Voting, the preferred way to vote in NC, benefits all North Carolinians. “One-Stop Early Voting” was a solution for many who called the hotline with voting concerns, providing multiple opportunities in the days preceding Election Day to access the polls and avoid potential barriers to voting, such as long lines or registration issues. In 2022, over 2 million of the 3.8 million total ballots were cast at EV sites.
- Voting by Mail, a popular option, is confusing for many voters. The complexity of voting by mail remains a barrier to many, with uncertainty and confusion around requirements, deadlines, and the return process that must be met to ensure votes are counted. Despite these hurdles, voting by mail continues to be a popular option, and voters should have the freedom to choose how they cast their ballot.
- NC needs to ensure polling place accessibility to those with limited abilities and disabilities. The Hotline received a troubling number of calls during the 2022 Midterm related to frustrations with inaccessible polling sites and poll workers who were unable to fully support voters. As documented by the Hotline, when polling places lack accessible parking, curbside voting, and accessible voting machines, voting becomes time-consuming and frustrating, which may result in voters being turned away and dissuade voters from participating in future elections.
- Voter ID was a challenge for voters long before it became law. While there was no voter photo ID requirement in 2022, many callers contacted the Hotline to ask if they were required to present identification when voting. One hundred and seventy-six of the calls on this topic focused exclusively on voter photo ID requirements. Timely and accessible voter education on the photo ID requirements must be a significant aspect of any rollout to mitigate the deterrent and disenfranchising effects of such a law.
- Students want to vote and often encounter unreasonable barriers to casting their ballot. The Hotline received numerous calls about voting issues specific to college students, many of which involved reports of being turned away from their polling place or having missed voting deadlines. The issues discouraging student voters from participating in elections or preventing them from voting at their preferred locations were consistent across the state, whether a student was voting on campus or at a polling place in their home county or precinct.
Although election administrators across the state are working to address some of these concerns, many lawmakers continue to validate extreme claims related to fraud or disinformation by changing election laws under the guise of “election integrity.” This is particularly evident in bills proposed throughout the 2023 legislative session, including Senate Bill 747, which attacks vote-by-mail and election officials’ ability to run safe and secure elections, among other concerns. Such legislation further proves the need to center the experiences of voters in policy changes in North Carolina.
“The hotline continues to document voting experiences across the state in areas with different demographics and electoral needs,” said Katelin Kaiser, Voting Rights Counsel at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice. “This information remains vital as laws and barriers to the ballot box continue to change and shift in North Carolina. For the first time in this report, we speak to the experiences of college students and the LGBTQIA+ community, highlighting their unique and particular struggles when voting, which is essential when fighting for an inclusive democracy.“
“North Carolina voters have been subject to dozens of radical election reforms in 2023, making clear that our government officials do not actually take voter experiences into account when overturning court cases or passing sweeping elections reforms. Indeed, voters want changes to election systems. But they want changes that will make voting easier, safer, and accessible to all. Our organizations have spoken directly to thousands of voters for over a decade, regularly publishing our findings in reports like this one. Going forward, we hope our elected officials can learn from our findings and make the changes voters actually want,” said J.P. Grillet, Research Manager for Democracy NC.
The 2022 Midterm Election Protection report offers recommendations and actionable steps for lawmakers and the State Board of Elections to protect voters through improving voting by mail, early voting, accessibility, and more. Learn more at southerncoalition.org/resources/election-protection-report-2022.
Southern Coalition for Social Justice, founded in 2007, partners with communities of color and economically disadvantaged communities in the South to defend and advance their political, social, and economic rights through the combination of legal advocacy, research, organizing, and communications. Learn more at southerncoalition.org and follow our work on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
Democracy North Carolina is a statewide nonpartisan organization that strengthens democratic structures, builds power among disenfranchised communities, and inspires confidence in a transformed political process that works for all. Learn more at www.democracync.org.