New NC election law blocked as many as 50,000 would-be voters this fall

Voting rights advocates have long warned that ending same-day registration and other restrictions in North Carolina's new election law would disenfranchise people -- and that's exactly what happened during this election, according to a new report from Democracy North Carolina. (Photo by Sue Sturgis.)

New voting restrictions and poll workers' unpreparedness and confusion kept somewhere between 30,000 and 50,000 eligible North Carolinians from voting in this fall's general election.

That's the conclusion of a new report from Democracy North Carolina. The voting rights watchdog analyzed 500 reports from poll monitors in 38 counties and 1,400 calls to a voter assistance hotline to come up with its estimate, which does not include the thousands of people who might have voted before Election Day if the law had not cut the early voting period by a full week.

The report found that most of the problems were due to three changes made by the law passed last year by the Republican-controlled legislature and signed by Gov. Pat McCrory: the repeal of same-day registration, which allowed qualified citizens to register and vote during the early voting period; the repeal of out-of-precinct voting, which allowed people to cast a valid provisional ballot at different polling sites in their county on Election Day; and the repeal of straight-party voting, which created backlogs at polling places and led to long waits for many.

Voters stood in "excessively long lines" in more than a dozen of North Carolina's 100 counties on Election Day -- some for up to three hours. "I have waited one hour 35 minutes just to get within an hour of the voting booth," said one hotline caller in Winston-Salem. "It's so sad that probably 25 percent of the voters gave up and left after the first hour or so of waiting."

Once voters made it through the lines, thousands were turned away because they were in the wrong precinct. While nearly 6,000 voters cast valid out-of-precinct ballots in the 2010 midterm, less than 500 were accepted this year because of the provisional ballot restrictions. Some poll workers were also confused about how to apply the law's new rules on provisional ballots.

In addition, the report found that while many election officials tried to help voters, there were reports of poll workers mistreating voters with disabilities, not giving voters provisional ballots even when they were likely to count, misapplying voter ID rules that don't take effect until 2016, showing what appeared to be bias against African-American voters, and redirecting voters to the wrong precincts.

"If the 2013 law is not overturned, large-scale changes will be needed to avert a disaster in the 2016 presidential election," the report warns.

Read the full report, which includes examples of specific challenges faced by voters, online here.