Voting turns into frustrating ordeal for college student

A North Carolina student is fired up and ready to vote, only to encounter obstacle after obstacle

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ELON, N.C. — With just a couple of weeks to go until the North Carolina primary, I was fired up and eager to vote. Amendment One was on the ballot. If passed, it would amend the state constitution to define marriage as one man and one woman. The issue polarized the state, and many students, myself included, were motivated to register to vote in our college communities rather than requesting absentee ballots from our home states.

After weeks of watching local organizations duke it out with lawn signs, billboards and YouTube videos, it was time. Just to be sure everything was set, I logged on to the state board of elections website and plugged in my name.

The system couldn’t find me.

There must have been a mistake. I clearly remembered registering to vote, and wondered if my name had been misspelled in the system. It wouldn’t be the first time. But searches for the usual misspellings didn’t find anything, either. I worried.

The error was mine. I had listed my apartment address, but neglected to include my mailing address on the registration form. Because my off-campus residence did not receive mail, two attempts to send me a voter registration card had failed.

Anyone can register and vote on the same day during the one-stop voting period. Photo ID isn’t necessary, but proof of address, a lease or phone bill, is required. Because I was subletting and didn’t have my name on a lease, I had zero acceptable documents to prove my Alamance County residency. I was devastated that I might not vote.

On two occasions, I spent nearly half an hour on the phone with the county board of elections. Ultimately, I was referred to a state elections specialist and spent another half-hour on the phone. For the third time, I was read a long list of acceptable documents, none of which resolved my problem.

The state official told me I could cast a provisional ballot, which, by law, should be offered to all who aren’t registered to vote but think they are eligible. This was the first time I was offered a provisional ballot.

Finally, I had a breakthrough. I realized I might be able to update the address on my car registration, vote provisionally, and take the new registration to the county the following week. I spent 45 minutes on the phone with the Division of Motor Vehicles to change my address, and was late for class.

That Saturday, I spent about two hours at the early voting site at the Graham, N.C., Public Library. I told the poll worker I needed a provisional ballot and was sent to the voter registration line. I completed another voter registration form and more than half an hour later I explained my situation, again, to another poll worker. I was sent to someone else and finally was able to cast a provisional ballot.

The process was draining and frustrating. The poll workers clearly were confused; one was obviously annoyed, even hostile. Several friends were with me, and we all talked about leaving.

My boyfriend was registered to vote in another North Carolina county, and showed his on-campus address by using his iPhone, but was told he needed a document. Several other friends from his building had similar problems, and they all had to step out of the long line. One woman applied for a library card, and then each student paid to use the printer.

Three students from my apartment building — permanent residents from other North Carolina counties — went to vote and were told to return with proof of residency. They were never offered provisional ballots. Only one returned with proof in time to vote. Another was not told she needed to return during early voting, and had planned to go back on Election Day. By the time she realized this, it was too late for her to travel three hours to her hometown, where she was registered.

When my car registration finally came, only my mailing address was on the document, and I spent another half hour on the phone with the DMV.

The DMV told me that the only document with my residential address would be a history of my car’s registered addresses. To get that, I would have had to drive more than 60 miles each way to downtown Raleigh, apply and pay $1, and then show it to the Alamance County Board of Elections. I didn’t have a full day to drive around the state.

My vote was not counted.

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