By: Julie Tulbert
All eyes are on the Supreme Court as we wait to find out what they will do with North Carolina’s emergency appeal of the 4th Circuit’s decision to grant an injunction against two provisions of the state’s Voter Identification and Verification Act. This injunction applies to the elimination of same-day voting and the ability to count ballots from people voting out of their precinct. One issue that is absent from the discussion? Absentee postal voting.
The new law changed voters’ ability to simply handwrite a request for a ballot by mail. Instead, voters have to obtain an official request form either online or in person at a county board of elections’ office. Voters are also required to provide the last four digits of their Social Security number or their North Carolina driver’s license number. If a voter cannot provide either of those numbers, they must submit a copy of a valid photo ID or documentation of their name and current address, such as a utility bill. After submitting this application, their county’s board of elections sends back a ballot. The law also increased the number of witnesses to the voter’s marking of the ballot from one to two; although, only one is required if that witness is a notary public.
None of these changes were the subject of the initial challenges by the Department of Justice and advocacy groups in their request for an injunction against provisions of the law. Drawing the spotlight away from absentee voting may be deliberate – African-Americans actually constitute a small number of people who vote by mail ballot. For example, in 2012, blacks were only 8.7 percent of absentee voters. Whites were 86.4 percent. The focus instead on early voting makes sense, since higher numbers of blacks use early voting – 28.9 percent in 2012 (65.8 percent for whites).
Also, the new law is not as stringent about voter ID for in-person voting, since the absentee voter can use documentation of their address to verify their identity. Additionally, only minor problems have surfaced so far with North Carolina’s absentee voting, which began on September 5th. Since the beginning of October, 80 ballots have been marked as invalid because of the lack of the required signatures of two witnesses. Election officials have certified 3,100 of the 3,400 ballots received.
Another reason for the lack of focus could be the higher use of absentee voting by Republicans. In 2012, Republicans were half of all absentee voters, while Democrats were only a quarter of absentee voters. This is in contrast to early voting numbers, where Republicans were only 30 percent and Democrats were 49.1 percent. In nine states in 2012, Obama performed worse by mail ballots by 1.5 percentage points compared to his numbers on the day of the Election, according to the Huffington Post.
However, for the 2014 mid-term elections, this trend for Republicans has not held. As of October 2nd, Democrats accounted for 41 percent of requested ballots and 44 percent of accepted ballots. Republicans are 35 percent of requested ballots and 35 percent of accepted ballots. Whether these numbers will hold, it is still too early to tell. North Carolina’s numbers could flip, as they did in Iowa.