This story was written by Michael Hewlett and first appeared in the Winston-Salem Journal on Thursday, March 24, 2016

North Carolina’s photo ID voting requirement resulted in confusion, long lines and voters not being able to cast a ballot at the polls during the March 15 primary, activists said Wednesday in a conference call.

“We saw poll workers being absolutely uninformed about the requirement,” said Allison Riggs, an attorney for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice. “We saw voters being turned away.”

Penda Hair, an attorney representing the North Carolina NAACP in its legal challenge against the photo ID requirement, said that polling places in Winston-Salem and Durham had long lines. Voters at First Alliance Church in Winston-Salem stood in line for an hour and 45 minutes. Tim Tsujii, the Forsyth County elections director, said some polling places had long lines as they were about to close at 7:30 that night. State law requires polling places to serve all voters who are in line before the closing time.
Many people who were affected by the photo ID requirement were racial minorities and poor people, activists said.
The March 15 primary was the first test of North Carolina’s photo ID requirement. Under the law, registered voters have to present one of six kinds of photo ID — a North Carolina driver’s license, provisional license or learner’s permit; a special nonoperator’s ID card; a U.S. passport; a tribal enrollment card issued by a federally or state recognized tribe; an ID card issued by another state subject to certain limitations; and a military or veterans ID card.
Last year, the General Assembly eased the photo ID requirement, allowing voters without an ID to fill out a reasonable impediment declaration and then cast a provisional ballot.

Bob Hall, the executive director of Democracy North Carolina, said that even with the changes, voters had problems casting a ballot. He said his organization sent out more than 700 people to take incident reports and refer people to a hotline.

“Over the period from early voting to Election Day, that hotline got over 1,000 calls,” Hall said. “The complexity of the new voter ID law and the variety of exceptions turned our election system into a bureaucratic nightmare. You’d think constitutional lawmakers would find that repulsive.”

The North Carolina NAACP and others filed a lawsuit against the photo ID requirement and other provisions of the state’s election law soon after they were passed in 2013. A trial in Winston-Salem was held in January on the photo ID requirement. U.S. District Judge Thomas Schroeder has not made a decision on the photo ID requirement.

Jackie Hyland, a spokeswoman for the State Board of Elections, said that more voters participated in the March 15 primary than in any previous primary.

Hyland said early voting was a success.

“While we are carefully reviewing ways to shorten wait times, we are proud of the work counties did to ensure voters’ voices were heard at the polls,” she said. “For three years, the State Board of Elections has educated and assisted voters to prepare the state for voter ID.”

Hyland said that 1,459 people statewide did not have a photo ID and did not fill out a reasonable impediment declaration.
Another 937 did fill out the declaration. She said 313 voters claimed a reasonable impediment but did not fill out a declaration. Those voters did cast a provisional ballot. County elections officials are still processing provisional ballots and determining which ones will count, Hyland said.
In Forsyth County, 48 of the provisional ballots so far are related to photo ID. Seven of those voters declared reasonable impediments. Forsyth election officials still have 380 of the 946 provisional ballots to process today. Many of the provisional ballots relate to precinct transfers and questions about party affiliation.