On Election Day in 2014, Joetta Teal went to work at a polling station in Lumberton, North Carolina. Like all poll workers, she was required to stay until voting booths closed, so she decided to cast her own vote there. That was a mistake, she later discovered. What she didn’t know was that under a 2013 state law she had to vote in the precinct where she lived. The polling station where she voted was not in her precinct, so her vote was not counted. A Reuters review of Republican-backed changes to North Carolina’s voting rules indicates as many as 29,000 votes might not be counted in this year’s Nov. 8 presidential election if a federal appeals court upholds the 2013 law. Besides banning voters from voting outside their assigned precinct on Election Day, the law also prevents them from registering the same day they vote during the early voting period. The U.S. Justice Department says the law was designed to disproportionately affect minority groups, who are more likely to vote out of precinct and use same-day registration. Backers of the law deny this and say it will prevent voter fraud.
The battleground state has a recent history of close races that have hinged on just a few thousand votes. Barack Obama, a Democrat, won North Carolina by just 14,177 votes in 2008. In 2012, Mitt Romney, a Republican, narrowly carried the state by a margin of just 2.04 percent.
Reuters reviewed state election board data showing the number of North Carolinians who made use of out-of-precinct voting and same-day registration in previous elections, including March’s state nominating contest, or primary, when voters nominated their preferred presidential candidate.
The Reuters analysis includes some assumptions. For 29,000 votes to go uncounted on Nov. 8, North Carolinians would need to vote in the same numbers and in the same ways they have in previous elections, including the March primary. In that primary, after a court temporarily ordered a stay on the bans, 6,387 North Carolinians voted out of their assigned precinct and 22,501 registered the same day they voted.