09/09/13 — Election officials planning ahead

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Election officials planning ahead

By Steve Herring
Published in News on September 9, 2013 1:46 PM

The controversy over changes in the state's voting laws continues to grab headlines, but for Wayne County Board of Elections Director Rosemary Blizzard, the immediate concern is the approaching November municipal and sanitary district elections.

However, the changes that will be phased in during 2014 and 2016 are still looming, and she is encouraging voters not to wait until then to ensure their records are in order -- especially their name, date of birth and address.

People can call the Board of Elections office at 919-731-141 or go online anytime to check their voter information, she said.

"We are business as usual for this election," Mrs. Blizzard said. "At this point, we are doing what we have always done, and that is to make sure we have good, clean records. Citizens will not be required to show voter ID before 2016. Now, I think they can, if they want to, but as far as a requirement, you do not have to do that until 2016. I expect that the majority of people will show a driver's license.

"There are certainly other documents that can be used. They are still tweaking what is and what isn't, and a lot of that is going to have to come from the state Board because they want it to be consistent from county to county."

Mrs. Blizzard said she had not heard anything to indicate whether there would be state-issued voter IDs.

However, college or university IDs, issued by either public or private institutions, will not be allowable forms of identification in the 2016 elections, she noted.

"Starting in 2014, in preparation for 2016, and they are still working out the details of how we will actually do this, we will have to ask people, 'Do you have identification?'" she said. "We will actually note that on their paperwork if they vote in 2014.

"We will take the list of people who say, 'No I don't,' and use that as part of our outreach efforts to help these individuals get their identifications. What that means, what help means, I don't know. That is still evolving from Raleigh."

People should not necessarily be worried about producing an ID until 2016, but if they need to get one, they should get started now, she said.

"One of the things that we have figured out, if your name does not match what is on your driver's license you may run into some issues," she said.

The voter registration database is connected to the state Division of Motor Vehicles. If a person's name shows up with a driver's license in the DMV records, and the name is matched up to the name in the voter registration system, that license number will be added to the record, she said.

"But if my name is Victoria and I go by Vicki, and I may have registered as Vicki and the driver's license says Victoria, then it won't match. I won't have that information on my voter registration system. So I would strongly encourage people to take a look at their voter registration name and address and take a look at their driver's license name and address. Make sure that they match."

When voting absentee, a person must provide their driver's license number or the last four digits of their Social Security number.

"Part of my process for handling that absentee ballot is to look at the number provided by the voter and match it to what is in my system," she said. "So certainly the more I have validated in my system, the easier it is going to be more me to process your absentee ballot.

"We have about 9,800 people in Wayne County who I cannot validate with a driver's license or a Social Security number. Now, that does not mean that 9,800 people are running around with no ID whatsoever."

Mrs. Blizzard said her office is working to ensure it is not an error as a result of a misspelled name or some other error her office made when putting in the data.

"A lot of it is that women change their names," she said. "They get married. They get unmarried. Out of that 9,800, about 5,500 are women. So those are things we are going to be working on going into 2016, trying to get as many people validated as we can."

"Up to this point we have never really required you to give us the name that you go by," she said. "Now I think what (House Bill) 589 is ultimately going to do, in addition to showing ID at the polls, is really streamlining our records so that from one agency to another you are the same person.

"If they realize there is a discrepancy, when they go to DMV, they can update their registration right there because that is part of that process. Or they can come here and we will work with them anyway that we can."

Mrs. Blizzard said she had noticed another group as well that could cause a problem.

"My name might be Albert Charles Smith, but I go by A.C.," she said. "If I registered as A.C. and my driver's license says Albert Charles, that is what is not going to validate. I have a feeling we are going to run into a lot of, 'But I have been known as A.C. or D.W. all of my life.'

"I am not trying to tell anybody we are going to start calling them Albert Charles, but for their records to validate through our system, we need to have consistency across the board, both DMV and voter registration."

Mrs. Blizzard said that in those cases that she did not think a person would not be allowed to vote or would be required to cast a provisional ballot.

But it just makes sense to take care business now just to be on the safe side, she said.

That also includes ensuring that an apartment number on an address matches a person's voting record.

"It won't necessarily make a difference in what ballot that they get, but getting their voter registration card delivered to them, that apartment number makes a difference," she said.

Another problem involves people who have died since the last election.

"We have a certain process that we have to follow by law. So we can't just read an obituary and pull someone off. We have got to have notification from a near relative or a copy of the death certificate. If the person dies in North Carolina, it may take a little while, but we do get notified by the Department of Health and Human Services."

But when a person dies out of state, it is difficult for the local board to get notified. The office cannot remove anyone from the voters rolls unless it hears from a near relative of the person, or if it is contacted by the board of elections in the state where the person has moved to, she said.

"One of the things that would be helpful, and it is a touchy subject because it involves a dear departed relative, but if you have had a near relative who has passed away out of state, we need help getting those folks off," Mrs. Blizzard said.

People can use a form on the Board of Elections website to do so, she said.

Also, Wayne County is unique because it is a military community so the population is going to be more fluid, she said.

Mrs. Blizzard said she realizes the records might reflect that.

Any time there are major changes to election law there will be thumps and bumps first election or two, but that is normal, she said.

"Our job is to minimize those thumps and bumps as much as we can," she said. "That is what proper planning and education will do. That is where I am already saying that probably the biggest obstacle we are going to run into is getting everybody validated."