By George Reed, Retired Executive Director
[Editor’s note: Because of a late afternoon ruling on February 5 by a panel of federal judges, the timing of North Carolina’s primary elections became uncertain shortly after this article was written. The judges declared that North Carolina’s 1st and 12th Congressional Districts, as drawn by the legislature in 2011, amount to unconstitutional gerrymanders that deny equal protection to black voters. They ordered that the congressional district maps be revised by February 19. Legislators have filed an emergency appeal noting that absentee balloting has already begun. The State Board of Elections is encouraging voters to proceed as if the primary on March 15 is going to take place as scheduled. This includes requesting absentee ballots by the current deadline and voting for all races on the absentee ballot, including the Congressional races. The NC Council of Churches will continue to monitor proceedings as the status of the primary becomes clearer.]
Amid all the hoopla of the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary, have you noticed that North Carolina has its primary elections in just more than a month, on Tuesday, March 15? Absentee voting is already under way. Historically, the NC primary has been in early May. Last year legislative leaders, expressing their desire to have North Carolina play a more important role in presidential primaries, moved ours to March. But note that it is the primary for all NC elections, not just the race for President.
This means that you need to be thinking ahead now to be sure you can vote. Is your voter registration information up-to-date? Have you moved since you last voted? Are you going to be traveling on Primary Election Day (so that you will have to vote early or absentee)? And, the all-important new question: do you have an approved photo ID or know what to do if you don’t?
And why do people of faith care? The NC Council of Churches has long supported full citizen participation in voting as critical to our democracy. We remember that Jesus taught his followers to “render to Caesar.” In a democracy, the most basic request that “Caesar” makes is that citizens exercise their right to vote. In addition, the Council believes voting, followed by advocacy, are an important way — though not the only way — to implement the calls for justice and mercy found in the words of the Old Testament prophets and of Jesus. For example, ministering to Jesus’ sick brothers and sisters involves not only sending medical missionaries and creating free clinics but also expanding Medicaid and encouraging healthier eating by school children.
The following list of dates and other important information is from our friend Bob Hall at Democracy NC. Please save it and share it.
Important election dates to save and share:
Friday, February 19 – Voter registration regular deadline for March Primary
Thursday, March 3 – Early voting period begins for March Primary
Tuesday March 8 – Deadline for absentee ballot request to be received
Saturday, March 12 – Early voting period ends at 1p.m. for March Primary
Tuesday, March 15 – 2016 Statewide March Primary Election Day. Polls are open 6:30 AM to 7:30 PM; deadline for receipt of absentee ballot (or if clearly postmarked that day, then receipt by March 18 is allowed.)
Tuesday, March 22 – Final vote count (Canvass Day), includes all valid provisional and absentee ballots
You can download an absentee ballot and other forms, check your registration, learn what you’ll need to vote, review your ballot, and get answers to pressing questions by visiting Democracy NC’s special voter website.
You can also call this toll-free hotline for answers in real time: 888-OUR-VOTE (888-687-8683).
Because many voting rules are being considered by the courts, everyone should register to vote now, vote early or at your own precinct on Election Day, and bring your ID if you have one – but if you don’t, you can still vote.