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Voting myths debunked



There are some confusing e-mails going around about when you can register, where you can vote, even what you can wear to the polls. We asked Don Wright, general counsel for the North Carolina State Board of Elections, to sort fact from fiction.

Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 4. For more information about voting, visit the North Carolina State Board of Elections Web site at www.sboe.state.nc.us or call 733-7173.

If you enounter problems voting, call the SBOE or the NAACP Voter Hotline, 1-866-687-8683.

MYTH: If you wear an Obama T-shirt to the polls, you'll be turned away.

FACT: "Not in North Carolina," Wright said. "We've taken the position that merely wearing a T-shirt, button or cap is not electioneering. We don't think anybody's going to change their vote because they see a 'Vote for X' button."

Other states are stricter about political fashion statements. In California, election officials plan to use paper smocks to cover up political messages on voters' clothes. In 2004, a woman there reportedly removed her pro-John Kerry T-shirt and voted in her bra. In North Carolina, voters can keep their shirts on.

MYTH: College students from out of town can't register to vote where they go to school.

FACT: "Yes, students can register," Wright said. But they should cancel their old registration by writing a letter to the elections board back home.

North Carolina's voter registration form includes a line asking where you've previously been registered—but that's an extra safeguard. It doesn't necessarily mean the state will cancel your old registration for you.

However, our state voter database, SEIMS, automatically checks for duplicate registrations within the state. Let's say you're a UNC student from Buncombe County who just registered in Orange County and forgot to send a cancellation letter. SEIMS will catch your registration and send a notice to Buncombe and Buncombe will remove you from its rolls. "You won't get in trouble unless you go back to Buncombe and try to vote and for some reason it's not cancelled yet," Wright said. If you try to vote twice, "they'll catch you."

MYTH: I can avoid jury duty if I don't register to vote.

FACT: Au contraire, Slacker Citizen. "There are other sources for jury lists besides voting records," Wright said, "so not registering to vote will not prevent you from being called for jury duty." If you've got a driver's license, you're already on the hook.

MYTH, part 1: If you don't register to vote by Friday, Oct. 10, you can't vote in this election.

MYTH, part 2: You can register and vote at the same time on Election Day.

FACT: Neither of these statements is true. The Oct. 10 registration deadline stands unless you take advantage of North Carolina's one-stop early voting system, which allows you register and vote at the same time at any of the early voting sites in your county. So if you miss the deadline of Oct. 10, you have an opportunity to register and vote at one-stop sites. Early voting runs Oct. 16 through Nov. 1. On Nov. 4, Election Day, you can't register to vote.

MYTH: If someone challenges your voter registration, you have to show proof that you're an eligible voter.

FACT: You'll have to take an oath affirming you're a citizen, age 18 or older, and that you reside where you say you do. But beyond that, the burden of proof is on the person making the challenge.

"They've got to have a good-faith basis to allege and to prove with competent evidence that you're not who you say you are," Wright said.

For instance, if someone tells an election official he suspects a Spanish-speaking voter isn't an American citizen, the Spanish-speaker will be asked to take an oath, but won't be required to show identification. "The fact that somebody looks 'foreign' is not a good-faith basis to challenge the voter," Wright said.

MYTH: If your home is in foreclosure, your voter registration can be challenged.

FACT: As long as you're living at the address where you're registered, your registration is right as rain, Wright said. It doesn't matter if the bank now owns the house.

If you've moved out, however, you'll need to change your registration by the deadline. But if you've moved to another address within the same county, you can show up to the new precinct on Election Day and change your address when you vote.

Foreclosure became a hot topic when online publication the Michigan Messenger published in September that Michigan's Republican Party was planning to challenge the voting rights of people on foreclosure lists, which the party vehemently denies. The Obama campaign filed a federal lawsuit to prevent the practice.

MYTH: If you vote absentee, your vote doesn't count.

FACT: "That is absolutely silly," Wright said. "Absentee votes count just like any other vote. If you look on Election Night, you'll see that absentee returns are reported. It doesn't matter if it's a runaway election or a tight election."

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