By implementing just a few of the great ideas that are out there, North Carolina could join the growing list of states that are encouraging more people to be a part of the political process.
Last month, California’s Governor signed into law a bill that will automatically register eligible voters when Californians interact with the DMV. Getting a license? Great, you’re registered to vote. Taking a driver’s test? Fantastic, you’re a registered voter. There are currently over 6.5 million eligible Californians who are not registered to vote. Here’s what California’s Secretary of State had to to say about it:
“Citizens should not be required to opt-in to their fundamental right to vote. We do not have to opt-in to other rights, such as free speech or due process. The right to vote should be no different.”
Oregon passed a similar law earlier this year. As a result, they expect an extra 300,000 people will be registered to vote for in time for the next election.
Vote By Mail
Oregon, Colorado, and Washington
Every eligible voter in these states receives a ballot in their mailbox three weeks before Election Day. After they’ve completed their ballot, voters can either stick a stamp on the secured envelope containing their ballot or take
their ballot to a nearby drop-off site. There are at least two drop-off sites in every county. Oregon’s turnout is 8% higher than the national average; Colorado jumped to third-highest turnout in the country the year it implemented vote by mail.
Permanent Absentee Voting
Montana, Arizona, Hawaii, California, Washington, D.C. and New Jersey
Five states (plus D.C.) have made permanent absentee voting an option for voters in their state. Basically, permanent absentee voting is an opt-in system for vote by mail. If you like to vote in person, great, you still can. However, if you prefer not to travel and wait in line, then you can automatically receive your ballot at home for every future election without any special reason.
Texas, West Virginia, Wyoming, Alaska, Nebraska, California, Colorado, D.C., Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Georgia, Missouri, Nevada, Oregon, and Rhode Island
Most states realize that 16 and 17-year-olds are usually either in a public school or in the process of getting their driver’s license, both of which pose golden opportunities to pre-register future voters. Some states pre-register students when they take a required government or civics class like North Carolina used to (but doesn't anymore — grrrr), and others register first-time drivers at the DMV. Regardless, it capitalizes on the years before 18, when a person is very likely to come into to contact with state-run entities.
Georgia, South Carolina, Louisiana, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, D.C., Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Utah, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, and Arizona
This one is a no-brainer. While the voter registration form is available online in North Carolina, you still have to print it out, fill it out, and mail it or deliver it to your Board of Elections. Most states have taken the simple and cost-effective step of going fully paperless, but North Carolina is not among them. Until then, citizens will be forced to use snail mail to become voters.
So What’s Up With North Carolina?
Out of all of these ideas that would make the voting process more efficient and effective, North Carolina has implemented none. Almost every state in the union is listed at least once, but North Carolina is not. In fact, North Carolina has been passing laws that make voting more difficult and less accessible.
Our state had been pre-registering high school students to vote in their required Civics and Economics classes, but in 2013, it cut this initiative because… well, nobody really knows why. We also had 17 days of early voting, but now it’s 10. We ended same-day registration. We made it mandatory that voters present photo ID at the polls, despite there being thousands of legally registered voters who do not have photo ID.
We know what to do to make voting more convenient, more efficient, and more accessible for North Carolinians. Other states have completed the trial runs of these initiatives and we can choose to follow and improve on their success. If we truly believe in encouraging citizens to participate in our democracy, this is the path forward.