At the close of 2019, the state’s voter ID law was temporarily struck down and its gerrymandered congressional maps were redrawn.
North Carolina is expected to be the scene of some intense political races this year. But a number of important changes have taken place recently. Here’s a rundown of what you need to know if you’re a voter in the Tar Heel state.
The state’s latest voter ID law was struck down—for now
On Dec. 31, a federal judge ruled to temporarily strike down voter ID requirements. That means when residents go to vote in the upcoming primary, they do not need to bring their IDs with them.
In 2018, voters approved a constitutional amendment requiring North Carolinians present documentation of their identity when they show up to the polls; the law was slated to go into effect this year. The judge ruled, however, that parts of the measure “were impermissibly motivated, at least in part, by discriminatory intent,” and blocked it, pending a trial.
A previous version of the law was also struck down by the 4th U.S Circuit Court of Appeals. The court took the position that the law made it more difficult to vote, and had a disproportionate impact on Black and Latino voters.
Although North Carolinians don’t have to bring their IDs with them to vote in the primary, that could change by the time the general election rolls around in November. Last week, Republicans tried to make a last-ditch effort to keep the voter ID law in place for the primary, even though the State Board of Elections already announced a photo ID won’t be needed in March.
All representative seats are up for grabs
Not only are North Carolina’s 13 representative seats in the U.S. Congress up for election, voters will also get to elect a new senator. The incumbent, Republican Sen. Thom Tillis, will face three challengers, and experts predict it will be a tight race.
If Tillis is defeated by a Democratic challenger, the party split in the Senate would become even closer. As it stands, there are 53 Republican seats, 45 Democrats, and two Independents who vote along Democratic lines. Although changing the North Carolina seat from red to blue wouldn’t end legislative gridlock, it would bring the Democrats one step closer to securing a majority.
Right now, Republicans maintain a majority only by four seats in the Senate, but this year they’ll be defending 22 seats across the country that experts predict will be tight races. If voters in North Carolina flip their Senate seat and similar results come out of places like Arizona, Colorado, and Maine, Democrats could be looking at finally being able to make moves on key legislation.
You may be voting in a new congressional district
All 170 seats in the North Carolina General Assembly will also be up for election. Thanks to court-mandated redistricting, this year’s election could see a shakeup in parts of the state that have had the same representation for years. In an email to his supporters last week, for example, state Sen. Jeff Jackson (D-37) said his race “could go either way.”
“It’s a new district,” he continued. “It includes parts of our county that have typically supported members of the other party. This is going to be tough.”
The state was recently forced to redraw its congressional maps following two separate court cases that argued previous maps gave Republicans an unfair advantage.
“For a long time, the congressional map was split 10 to three, so Democrats only had a quarter of the seats despite routinely getting close to half the vote,” Michael Li of the Brennan Center told COURIER. “That is exactly contrary to what the framers would have wanted.”
The new district maps now show a total of five districts potentially going to Democrats and eight to Republicans. Whoever wins in November will be responsible for drawing new congressional maps after the 2020 Census; if those maps are not challenged in the future, they will be used for the next decade.
The primary is less than two months away
This year’s primary election will be held on March 3. There are approximately 2,700 polling locations, according to the North Carolina State Board of Elections. You can look at a sample ballot and find out your precinct by visiting the State Board of Elections website here.
Given district changes, voters in North Carolina have the opportunity to implement real change in their state, especially on key issues like Medicaid expansion and teachers’ pay.
The deadline to register is Feb. 7, but there’s some wiggle room
Voters can register as late as 25 days before the election, meaning Feb. 7. If you miss the deadline, however, residents can still take advantage of same-day registration during the early voting period.
If you’re planning to vote absentee, the deadline is also ticking
All citizens are eligible for absentee voting, and there are no special requirements. Voters who decide to use absentee voting must submit a request to their county board of elections by the last Tuesday before the election. This year, that means no later than Feb. 25. You can find a North Carolina absentee ballot request form here.
The State Board of Elections started sending out absentee ballots this week.
Early voting starts in one month
North Carolina (and 38 other states) allow voters to cast their ballots in person before Election Day. Voters don’t need to justify their reasoning for using early voting, and to make things easier still, voters can visit any polling location in their county to cast their ballots. Another added benefit, as mentioned earlier, is that people who are not currently registered to vote will be able to register same-day during the early voting period.
In North Carolina, early voting will run Feb. 13 through Feb. 29. Hours vary by county, voting site, and the day. More information can be found here.