A tale of two states: Voting in N. Carolina and Washington

Has your vote been counted? Here’s how to check in Washington state

Washington is one of three states that send ballots in the mail to all registered voters. Here is how you can check if your vote has been counted.
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Washington is one of three states that send ballots in the mail to all registered voters. Here is how you can check if your vote has been counted.

There is a story that, upon exiting the Constitutional Convention, Benjamin Franklin was asked by a group of citizens what sort of government the delegates had created. Franklin’s answer was: “A republic, if you can keep it.”

The right — and responsibility — to vote is fundamental to keeping that republic. What’s the voting experience in different parts of America? My wife and I grew up in North Carolina, but we’ve lived and voted in Washington for decades. Let’s compare the two places.

Registration: Recent changes in Washington law have made voter registration remarkably easy. You can register online or by mail up until 8 days before an election. You can register in person at the County Auditor’s office until — and including — election day. And 16-and 17-year-olds can register in advance to vote once they reach age 18. Voters do not register by party.

North Carolina allows mail registration up until 25 days before election day. You also can register in person by going to specified locations on “early voting” days, registering and voting there. There, 16- and 17-year-olds also can register in advance. Most voters register by party affiliation to allow voting in that party’s primary elections.

Ease of voting: Washington uses a vote-by-mail system for all elections. Our ballots arrive weeks before election day. We get a Voters Guide, either from our County Auditor for local elections, or from the Secretary of State for legislative and statewide races. We read The Olympian for Q&A interviews with candidates, letters to the editor, or related articles. We mark our ballots, drop them off at a secure dropbox, or just toss them, postage paid, in the mail.

North Carolina permits “no excuse” absentee voting. In other words, you can request a mail-in ballot in advance. But most folks vote at polling places. There’s some days for early voting, but that still requires a trip to the polling place. If the weather’s lousy, too bad. If traffic’s a mess, same answer. If the line is really long, deal with it. Remember to bring your approved photo identification to the polling place as well, or you’ll be turned away.

Redistricting: The census is coming, which in turn will require states to redraw state legislative and Congressional district lines to reflect the latest census data. Washington accomplishes this through an independent commission, a process established by a vote of the people in 1983 that amended our Constitution. Both major political parties hated it. It is bipartisan, transparent in its work, and a model for honest governance. We, the people, won this one.

North Carolina follows the more traditional model: to the victors go the spoils. The gerrymandering of district lines produces marked advantage for the party in control. This exercise in raw political power then leads to interminable court fights, most recently up to the US Supreme Court, which punted the ball. You may wish to look online at the state’s district maps over the years. North Carolina voters should be forgiven for thinking that the system is rigged, since it is.

Primaries: Washington uses a Top 2 Primary, once again due to a vote of the people in 2004. The political parties hated this, too. The fight went all the way to the US Supreme Court. We, the people, won again. All candidates run in a single primary, and may or may not state a preference for a particular party. The top 2 vote-getters advance to the general election.

North Carolina uses partisan primaries. The system is complex, known as a “semi-closed” primary. In short, each party has its own primary to nominate a candidate for the general election. Voters can only participate in one party’s primary.

Election Security: We mark a paper ballot. We put that ballot in a security envelope which we sign. Our signatures are on file, and can be checked. The paper ballots are available in case of a recount.

Some North Carolinians still vote on machines that are considered hackable. The state is slowly migrating to a more secure system of paper ballots.

Participation: In the 2018 election, 58.9% of eligible Washington voters stepped up. In North Carolina, the rate was 49.6%. Bully for us.

But can’t we each take responsibility to raise that rate? Why should we settle for it to be less than 100%? What would Ben Franklin think of our performance?