Featured photo: Voters walk into their precinct on Primary Election Day on March 5, 2024. (photo by Maaroupi Sani)

Polls opened bright and early at 6:30 this morning across North Carolina and close tonight at 7:30 p.m. for Primary Election Day.

In Forsyth County, 27,575 votes have already been cast during Early Voting, making up about 10 percent of the 264,699 people registered to vote. In Guilford County, 36,737 of the 377,677 who are registered to vote — also about 10 percent — cast their votes during the Early Voting period, which ran from Feb. 15-March 2.

During the last presidential primary election in 2020, 113,265 voters in Guilford County, or 31 percent of those registered, cast their votes in March. In Forsyth County, 83,220 votes were cast, about 32 percent of registered voters.

Primary Election Day on March 5, 2024. (photo by Maaroupi Sani)

This year’s primary election is different from previous years because of two notable changes in election rules across the state. The first is that every voter is now required to show a valid ID to cast a vote. The second is that approved poll watchers from political parties are allowed to observe voters at various precincts.

The list of rules of what poll observers can and can’t do is long. They can, for example, observe voters and listen to non-private conversations between election workers and voters. They can’t observe or photograph voters’ ballots.

Each county has a list of approved poll watchers that are either assigned to a specific precinct or can float from location to location. All poll watchers are partisan.

In Winston-Salem, confusion around voter ID crops up 

Voter Amira Bree has cast her ballot at the same precinct, the Christ Moravian Church in West Salem, since 2019. But on Tuesday around noon, Bree faced an issue due to the new voter ID requirements.

“I’ve gone here every year by myself and I’ve never had a problem because I pass, I look normal to people,” she explained.

The issue cropped up when Bree presented the election worker with her driver’s license, which had a different address than her voter registration information. This caused the election worker to scrap her first ballot.

Voters Amira Bree and Jade Carver pose outside of Christ Moravian Church during Primary Election Day on March 5, 2024 (photo by Gale Melcher)

According to NC state law, the picture on voters’ IDs must resemble the voter, but the address does not have to match the voter registration records. Voters who do not present an ID have the option to complete an ID Exception Form and then vote with a provisional ballot. They can also vote with a provisional ballot and then return it to their county board of elections office with their photo ID by the day before county canvass, according to state law.

Jade Carver, who had come with Bree to vote and is transgender, was initially denied access to a ballot because her addresses did not match either.

Bree and Carver had just moved to their new home in that precinct last month, according to Bree.

Eventually, the couple was able to vote after the election worker called the Forsyth County Board of Elections office to clarify that the two could cast their votes. But the worker never apologized to them, Bree and Carver said.

Signs direct voters on Primary Election Day, March 5, 2024 at Christ Moravian Church in Winston-Salem (photo by Gale Melcher)

The precinct judge for the location, Steve S., would not give TCB his last name and said that the day had been mostly smooth sailing, but acknowledged that there had been some issues with “wrong addresses.” S. worked during the 2020 primary election as well, he said, and that this Tuesday had been a bit busier. 

When asked about the situation with Bree and Carver, S. incorrectly stated that the women “didn’t have matching addresses on their IDs and stuff and state law says everything has to match up.”

When pressed about his incorrect interpretation of the new Voter ID law, the precinct judge told TCB to “call the board of elections and take that up with them.”

TCB called the Forsyth County Board of Elections but did not hear back in time for publication.

The woman who Bree and Carver spoke with told TCB that the confusion was due to a glitch in the system which listed Carver at two different addresses, her old one and the one at her new home.

She added that she’s had to help around 15 people today, three of whom ended up having to vote provisionally.

“That person was singled out because there was an irregularity,” she said, adding, “There’s just rules that we follow if it doesn’t fit in a neat little box.”

The hiccup made for a discouraging experience for Bree and Carter. 

“We could’ve just walked out,” Bree said. “The fact that we didn’t walk out was kind of miraculous. Whether or not the law is simple and easy, it can be used like we just saw for people to use their own vendettas against people.”

The location has 2,101 registered voters, 51 percent of whom are Democrats, 12 percent Republicans and 35 percent unaffiliated.

Earlier in the day, around 10:30 a.m. at Reynolda Church across from Reynolda Village, there were less than 10 people in line with three election workers checking people in and one poll observer. The location has 1,608 registered voters; 30 percent are Democrats and 35 percent are Republicans while 35 percent are unaffiliated.

Voters wait in line at Reynolda Church in Winston-Salem on Primary Election Day, March 5, 2024 (photo by Gale Melcher)

An election worker there told TCB that they hadn’t encountered any issues with people’s IDs.

“We live in a district where a lot of people have driver’s licenses,” the worker said.

Still, other voters in different precincts may run into issues.

In December 2023, TCB reported on Forsyth County’s DRIVE Program, which aims to help people with suspended licenses. According to research from Duke University, 56,861 people in Forsyth County had suspended licenses in 2020. That’s nearly 15 percent of the county’s 382,590 residents, per the 2020 census. Guilford County had 74,441 actively suspended drivers during the same year.

Precinct judge Mark Olson work Primary Election Day on March 5, 2024 at Winston Lake YMCA (photo by Gale Melcher)

At the next two stops, TCB ran into two out of the four East Ward candidates. At 11 a.m., candidate Christoper Taylor handed out flyers to voters as they made their way into the Winston Lake YMCA. Inside the building, there was no line to vote. The location has 1,896 registered voters — 68 percent Democrats, 6 percent Republican and 26 percent unaffiliated.

About half an hour later, East Ward candidate Phil Carter stood outside and greeted voters at the William C. Sims, Sr. Community Center. The location had 2,044 registered voters, 59 percent Democrats, 2 percent Republican and 39 percent unaffiliated. 

A voter waits in line at William C. Sims Recreation Center on Primary Election Day on March 5, 2024 (photo by Gale Melcher)

Election official Bri Doss told TCB that they hadn’t had any issues with poll watchers or campaign volunteers.

In Greensboro, election workers say it’s been ‘pretty slick’

As voters pulled into the parking lot at the First Friends Meeting Church off of Friendly Avenue in Greensboro, the sun was shining, leaving a glint off of the swings in the children’s playground next to the parking lot.

By 10:45 a.m., about 70 voters had cast their votes at the location. By 2 p.m., that number would climb to 160. The location had 1,386 registered voters, of which about 44 percent were Democrats and 16 percent were Republicans. 

An election worker dons an “I Voted” sticker on March 5, 2024 for Primary Election Day. (photo by Maaroupi Sani)

According to precinct judge Sharin Francis, who has worked the polls since 2013, the turnout has been comparable to past primary elections. Still, there are differences between this year’s election and those that have passed. 

On the tables where voters check in lay a packet that showed acceptable forms of ID that voters would have to show to be eligible to vote. 

“This is a new wrinkle,” Francis said. “We’re often referring to our books.”

Still, Francis said, no one has had any issues voting at that location. In fact, it was more confusing in past elections, Francis said, when voters tried to show them their IDs and they had to tell them not to. Another new change? The presence of poll observers.

According to Francis, there are more than 200 approved poll observers for Guilford County this year. So far, at the First Friends Meeting church, only one poll watcher — a Democrat — had visited the location.

“Each precinct gets a list of approved poll watchers so if they’re not on the list, they can’t come in,” Francis said.

Later in the afternoon at Craft Recreation Center, precinct judge Felicia Andrews told TCB that all of the voters had been wonderful.

“People are used to sharing their ID,” she said about the new ID requirements. “And the Board of Elections did a great job of communicating.”

Primary Election Day on March 5, 2024 (photo by Maaroupi Sani)

One issue that Andrews said their location, which is also an early-voting stop, has seen is the issue of voters coming to their precinct even if it’s not their assigned location.

By around 4 p.m. on Tuesday, Andrews said that they had had to redirect about 175 voters to their assigned polling place. According to county records, 3266 are registered to vote at Craft, with about 58 percent registered as Democrats and 8 percent as Republicans.

Besides that, however, Andrews said that everything has been smooth. The location had three poll observers throughout the day who sat and listened to the voters for about three hours each. There had been no problems, she said.

At a former church off of Lake Brandt Road, 326 voters had cast their vote by 4:15 p.m.

Candidate signs greet voters at a precinct on March 5, 2024. (photo by Maaroupi Sani)

That precinct had 3,040 registered voters: 34 percent Democrats, 29 percent Republicans and 36 percent unaffiliated.

According to Precinct Judge Patrick Weiner, who had worked elections for the past 12 years, all had gone “pretty smoothly” at their location.

“It’s been pretty slick here,” Weiner said. “No problems here.”

That location had not seen any poll observers.

Across town at Western Guilford High School, TCB photography intern Maaroupi Sani ran into trouble with one of the Republican poll observers when he showed up to the location. Sani, who started working with TCB this week, had not had a media credential, which caused the poll observer to find him suspicious. Sani then presented the election workers and the poll observer with Managing Editor Sayaka Matsuoka’s business card, but that did not assuage the poll observer’s concerns. Later, when Matsuoka showed up to the polling location, an election worker relayed the issue and confirmed that Sani worked for the paper.

Election workers wait for voters at Western Guilford High School on Primary Election Day on March 5, 2024. (photo by Maaroupi Sani)

TCB asked one of the poll observers who was at the precinct at the time for an interview but the observer declined.

Other than that, Precinct Judge Ray Linney Jr. said that everything had been going smoothly at their location, which had seen 139 voters by 4:30 p.m. Western Guilford had 3,052 registered voters, with 48 percent being Democrat, 14 percent Republican and 37 percent unaffiliated.

“Everybody has had their ID or something for us to recognize their face,” Linney Jr. said. “That’s pretty much all we’re looking for.”

Nearby, at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Jamestown, Precinct Judge Joe Dowd said that turnout appeared heavier than they anticipated. Dowd, who has worked as an election worker for about 30 years, said that their location had seen 371 voters so far today. The church had 4,718 registered voters, 45 percent of them Democrat, 19 percent Republican and 35 percent unaffiliated.

Voters cast their votes at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Jamestown on Primary Election Day on March 5, 2024. (photo by Maaroupi Sani)

Almost all of the voters had shown appropriate ID to vote, barring one voter who tried to show a picture of their ID. That voter was given a provisional ballot.

No poll observers had gone to that precinct.

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