A "heat map" provided by the N.C. Board of Elections appears to indicate where voters without needed identifications to vote are concentrated. Click to view the full-size image.

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Voters across the state are getting a crash course in what it will take to cast a ballot in next year’s polls, at a series of hearings hosted this month by the State Board of Elections.

The meetings, which kicked off Wednesday in Raleigh and will continue at eight additional locales, are geared at educating poll-goers on how to best anticipate changes that will be implemented in 2016 as a result of the 2013 voter ID legislation approved by the N.C. General Assembly.

In particular, the hearings will focus on portions of the law which will require voters to present a government-issued ID bearing a “reasonable resemblance” to the voter, along with the criteria officials will use to determine if an ID is valid.

The proposed changes, which lawmakers say are intended to thwart voter fraud, have been met with wide controversy and resistance from groups who argue it disenfranchises voters, particularly minorities. The law faces legal challenges, including a federal trial scheduled next month.

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Voters in the 18 counties of Western North Carolina will have two opportunities to attend hearings—one in Boone on Tuesday, June 10 and another in Sylva on Wednesday, June 11.

Josh Lawson, spokesman for the state Board of Elections, said locations for the hearings had been chosen after reviewing maps detailing which areas were home to the most voters who might be directly impacted by the law.

“Locations are geographically disbursed throughout the state,” Lawson said, in an emailed statement to Carolina Public Press. “We reviewed heat density maps of those for voters the state board could not match to a DMV-issued ID. Our board went above and beyond the statutory minimum to hold nine hearings.”

Lawson added that the purpose of the hearing was for agency staff to hear and record public comment on the proposed rules rather than underlying statutes of the law.

Organizations across the state have taken steps to prepare voters for the hearings, including Democracy North Carolina. Other groups include the Jackson County chapter of the NAACP, which held a workshop last month to discuss the changes, according to the Smoky Mountain News.

Want to go, offer comments, get an ID?

The hearing in Boone will take place on Wednesday, June 10, from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Watauga County Administration Building, Board of Commissioners Meeting Room at 814 West King Street.

The hearing in Sylva will take place on Thursday, June 11, from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Jackson County Board of Elections Office at 876 Skyland Drive, Suite 1.

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Despite both Boone and Sylva being more than 50 miles away from Western North Carolina’s most populated city of Asheville, voters who are not able to attend the hearings will also have the opportunity to submit comments via email to the State Board of Elections at rules@ncsbe.gov, or by mail to PO Box 27255, Raleigh, NC 27611 to the attention of Rule-making Coordinator.

The board’s voter outreach team is also available to assist voters in obtaining a free ID from the DMV. The team can be reached by phone at 866-522-4723 or email at voteroutreach.sboe@ncsbe.gov.

James Harrison

James Harrison is a contributing reporter with Carolina Public Press. Reach him at jharrison@carolinapublicpress.org.

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