Greensboro polling site allegedly singled out black voters for ID

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Black voters allege they were selectively asked to show ID at the Muirs Chapel United Methodist Church polling place in Greensboro. (photo by Jordan Green)

With engagement on a drizzly Election Day rivaling that of presidential election years, voters across Greensboro streamed through polling places to voice their preferences on numerous races and ballot initiatives, including a congressional race that could help determine the balance of power in the US House, and state legislative races that could break the Republican’s veto-proof supermajority in Raleigh.

Against a backdrop of intense interest and down-to-the wire contests, some election observers have reported voters being turned away from polling places or being improperly asked to show photo ID, which is not required under state law.

Tonya Lucas was one of the first people in line at the Muirs Chapel United Methodist Church polling place, when it opened at 6:30 a.m. She said she was already voting when she noticed another voter, an African-American woman, complaining.

“She yelled out, ‘He’s asking for ID,’” Lucas recalled. “A couple of the poll workers came over and she told the gentleman: ‘You can’t do that.’”

Louise Burroughs, the chief judge for the precinct, acknowledged that one of the election judges improperly asked voters for ID.

“I think he asked two people before we told him not to,” said Burroughs, who is registered as a Republican.

Marcus Brandon, a former Democratic state legislator, said he was dropping off a volunteer at the polling place when a woman pulled him aside in the parking lot and told him there was a problem.

“She said, ‘They’re only asking black people for ID,’” Brandon said.

The Muirs Chapel United Methodist Church precinct on the west side of Greensboro leans heavily Democratic, but its racial makeup is roughly balanced, with 44.6 percent of the electorate identified as white and 42.7 black. Voters in the precinct are in the 13th Congressional District, which is rated a “toss-up” by Cook Political Report.

Burroughs said, aside from the incident at the beginning of the day when the official improperly asked for ID, officials are not asking for ID unless the voter is specifically flagged.

“We’re not requiring it,” Burroughs said. “They pull it out of their own volition. I think the campaign workers outside are asking them if they’re being asked for ID, and they say yes, but we don’t require it.”

The one exception to the rule is a voter whose name is flagged in the pollbooks at Muirs Chapel United Methodist Church as “ID required.” The state Board of Election’s online voter database shows that the voter, a female of undesignated ethnicity who is unaffiliated, registered to vote on Oct. 12.

Charlie Collicutt, the Guilford County election director, said under the 2002 Help America Vote Act, newly registered voters who provide a driver’s license or the last four digits of their Social Security number can be flagged if their information doesn’t match up correctly. If that’s the case, they are required to show some kind of ID, which could include a utility bill, to vote.

“I can tell you that I made it adamantly clear this morning and in training that only in these very unique circumstances do we ask for ID,” Collicutt said.

But Tamara Williams, a black woman who is registered as a Democrat, said an official at the Muirs Chapel United Methodist Church polling place asked her for her ID.

“I said, ‘Why do you need to see my drivers’ license?’” Williams recalled. “I said, ‘As long as I give you my name and address, that’s all I need to do. If I really wanted to call the police I could, because you’re not supposed to do this.’ I showed her my driver’s license. She took it to the table and showed it to an older man, and they looked it over.”

Burroughs said if officials can’t understand voters when they pronounce their names, they might ask to see an ID or have them write their name on a piece of paper. Williams said that’s not the case with her.

“I come from two Bennett College graduates,” she said. “I can say all my sentences correctly. I’m very educated. I’m very insulted. I had family that had water thrown on them and dogs put on them during the Civil Rights Movement. I take the right to vote seriously.”

Burroughs spoke to Byron Gladden, a Guilford County School Board member, about the incident, and then to Collicutt. She told Triad City Beat that Williams’ account is not correct.

Tamara Williams

“I was standing right there,” Burroughs said. “She was not asked for ID.” Williams came in hours after Burroughs had said the ID problem had been quashed.

Williams said Burroughs is lying.

Collicutt said the disputed account doesn’t rise to the level where he would send additional personnel to monitor the polling place.

Poll workers at the Brown Recreation Center polling place, serving a majority black and Democratic precinct in southeast Greensboro, have reported that two voters were turned away.

Nicole Ward Quick, chair of the Guilford County Democratic Party, said she received a call this morning notifying her that a woman left the polling place angry after being told that her voter registration was inactive.

“The precinct official didn’t handle this as efficiently and correctly as they could have,” Collicutt said. “There was a voter that our system had flagged her where she needed to make sure she was at the right address. She needed to sign her confirmation and she would have been fine. The precinct official froze and wanted to call down to the office. She had to get in line behind another voter, and she left. She wasn’t turned away.”

In another case, Quick said she was told by Democratic volunteers that a voter came out of the polling place and said officials had told her she was in the wrong precinct. But when volunteers looked up her registration on a mobile phone, they discovered that indeed she was supposed to vote at Brown Recreation Center. Quick said she hasn’t been able to identify the voter. Collicutt he hadn’t heard about the incident.

Quick said she has also been concerned that polling places didn’t have proper signage to indicate that elderly and disabled voters can avail themselves of curbside voting.

“I reported about six locations [to the board of elections], including Jefferson Elementary for no curbside voting,” Quick said. “That seems to be an issue at RC1 [Eastern Guilford Middle School], RC2 [First Baptist Church of Whitsett], Gibsonville — several did not have any signage for curbside voting. I was at MON1 [Memorial Presbyterian Church], and I saw a couple of handicapped people trying to get inside. There were no signs…. I talked to the precinct chief at Jefferson, and they said, ‘We’re back here, but they can send someone in, and we’ll come out to them.’ But that doesn’t seem like the best way.”

Collicutt said he learned that his staff either didn’t provide signs to all the polling locations, or officials at some of the polling locations neglected to put them up.

“This is discrimination against our disabled people and elderly people,” said Gladden, the school board member. “Regardless [of whether they’re] Republican or Democrat, we shouldn’t make it hard for them to vote.”

As a reflection of the intensity of interest in this election, Collicutt said his office is fielding a significant number of calls from people who want to vote but aren’t registered.

“Precinct officials are calling and saying, ‘I’ve got this guy — can you help us out? He wants to vote, but he’s not registered.’ There are more voters that are not registered that want to vote in this election than any other I’ve seen.” (Voter registration closes before Election Day.)

Collicutt said he believes that any mistakes or unnecessary barriers will ultimately be insignificant in light of the anticipated high turnout.

“There are issues I have grave concerns about,” he said, “but the final number — I think it’s going to be a positive light on the pollworkers.”

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