The five-hour lines to vote in Phoenix’s Maricopa County on March 22 have become the prime example of election dysfunction in the 2016 primary. But a week before the debacle in Arizona, there were widespread problems at the polls in North Carolina, which has become ground zero in the fight for voting rights. Voters faced new barriers in these states because the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act and allowed jurisdictions with a long history of voting discrimination to implement new voting restrictions without federal approval. On March 15, Alberta Currie, an 82-year-old African-American woman, went to vote with her daughter in North Carolina’s presidential primary. Currie, a great-granddaughter of a slave, first voted in 1956, when white voters were allowed to cut in front of black voters in line and many eligible black voters couldn’t vote at all. North Carolina’s new voter-ID law was in place for the first time and 218,000 registered voters, who are disproportionately African-American, lacked an acceptable form of government-issued ID required to vote. Currie was one of them. She no longer drives and only has an expired license from Virginia. She cannot get a state photo ID in North Carolina because she was born at home to a midwife in the segregated South and never had a birth certificate. She is the lead plaintiff in a legal challenge to the state’s voter-ID law, and her story of trying to cast a ballot in North Carolina shows how harmful these new voting restrictions can be.
When Currie went to the polls in Fayetteville, a poll worker said she could not vote with her expired license and would have to go back to Virginia, where she has not lived since 1994, to update her license. Her daughter, Linda Blue, who has a North Carolina driver’s license, was wrongly told that she might also not be able to vote because her mother didn’t have a valid ID.
Blue called her mother’s lawyer, who said that Currie should be able to cast a provisional ballot because she had a “reasonable impediment” to obtaining a voter ID. The poll worker told Blue that she doubted her mother’s provisional ballot would be counted. Another poll worker said that Currie was not a registered voter, even though she’s been voting in Cumberland County since 2004, most recently in 2014.
After spending an hour arguing with the poll workers, Blue voted, but her mother did not. Jaclyn Maffetore of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice drove 90 miles from Raleigh to assist Currie. Currie returned to her polling place four hours later to try a second time to vote. Once again, the poll workers told her she was not a registered voter. Maffetore printed out a copy of Currie’s voting record and demanded she be offered a reasonable-impediment ballot. The poll workers finally relented and allowed Currie to cast a provisional ballot by stating her birth date, the last four digits of her Social Security number, and why she did not have a voter ID.