Sometimes you can tell how hard voting can be just by looking at a place. Drive through a rural pocket of northeastern North Carolina called Bertie County, and all you’ll see for miles and miles are tobacco and soybean fields. You’ll see large families crammed into small trailer homes propped up on cinder blocks. And you’ll notice that many of those homes have no car sitting outside. “Many of these persons don’t have cars. They can’t afford automobiles,” says the Rev. Vonner Horton, driving along the roads in her car. She’s the pastor at New Oxley Hill Baptist Church in Merry Hill, N.C. For years, Horton and her church have used the state’s early-voting system to make sure as many people as possible could vote. They send vans across the county, door to door, to pick people up and take them to polls. But they’re always short on time. Do the math, Horton says. One church van holds about 10 people. Gathering them up can take more than an hour. Then you have to drive to different polling places, long distances apart. Repeat all of this a few more times in one day, and you’ve only got 50 ballots in the box. And this new law has now cut early voting from 17 days down to 10.
“Losing that week is also going to put challenges on us on how we’re going to move across a county that’s two hours wide to get people to voting polls,” says Horton.
Driving across the county probably doesn’t actually take two hours, but driving around it — from home to home — could easily eat up a couple of hours.
There’s a big demand to vote early in Bertie County. Last year, almost 6,000 people did it — more than half of all voters here, according to an analysis of State Board of Elections data conducted by Democracy North Carolina, a voting rights advocacy group.
And even if all those voters do get back to polling places again, there’s another hurdle with the new voting law: You need a government-issued photo ID to vote in person.