August 12, 2016


Board of Elections tweaks early voting, but not enough for some

By CATHERINE KOZAK


Early voting hours have been expanded later in the day in Buxton, Kill Devil Hills and Southern Shores, but Dare County voters going to the polls prior to election day will have only one Saturday to vote - and they’ll have to drive to Manteo.

At its meeting Friday, the county Board of Elections agreed to a new schedule that tweaked voting hours at the satellite locations, but declined to add any more than the single Saturday of early voting that the law required.

“That was very disappointing, because that was really key,” said Lorelei DiBernardo, co-president of the non-partisan Dare County League of Women Voters. “Their own documentation says that Saturday gets twice as many voters . . . They didn’t add one minute to the weekend hours.”

But Dare County has never offered more than one Saturday of early voting, said Dare County Board of Elections director Michelle Barnes.

“We’ve had that one Saturday before, and I’ve never had anyone from Hatteras asking about it,” she said in a telephone interview on Friday.

Barnes added that a co-worker who lives on the island also said she has never heard anyone complain about the location or hours for early voting. 

For the last few months, DiBernardo said, the league has been urging the elections board to expand the hours that it initially proposed for early voting to be more accommodating for working people, especially for this year’s anticipated heavy voter turnout. 

An informal survey conducted by the League, she said, found that most of the 355 respondents favored more weekend, early morning and/or evening hours for early voting.
And Dare County ranks 93 out of 100 counties in percentage of voters who take advantage of early voting, she said, which seems to indicate that the availability of the option needed improvement.

After a federal judge overturned North Carolina’s voter ID law earlier this month – at the same time throwing out previously-mandated early voting hours – local boards were required to submit a new early voting schedule to the state Board of Elections. The ruling restored seven days of early voting, but left it up to the local boards to set hours and locations.  

Shortly before the judge tossed the voter ID law, the Dare board had voted to keep early voting hours of Monday – Friday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and the required Saturday morning before Election Day. 

Including herself, DiBernardo said that about 30 people attended Friday’s board meeting.  Of 10 people commenting, nine asked for the early voting hours to be expanded.

Although it wasn’t what the league had asked for, the board ultimately did move the hours to later in the day to allow people to vote after work or school. As it did in 2012, the schedule offers early voting four hours a day, but cuts a total of 3.5 hours a day of morning and evening hours from the Board of Elections site in Manteo.

Between Oct. 20 and Nov. 4, the earliest anyone can vote on a few select days at the three satellite sites is 10 a.m. On all other days, voting is available from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. In Manteo, no one will be able to vote earlier than 11 a.m. on any day except Saturday, Nov. 5, when the office is open for voting from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.

That is the only location where voters can vote during the weekend hours. 

“These hours are inadequate in providing hours that working voters can use the early voting option,” said Sandy Semans, an advocate for Democracy NC. “The only class of voters that these hours appeal to are retirees.” 

Semans also said that instead of adding hours to the 2012 poll locations, the board added the Pitt Center in Southern Shores as a satellite location, while seemingly overlooking the geographical convenience of Fessenden Center in Buxton.  

“It makes no sense to add a poll just about seven miles from an existing site,” Semans said, “when the early voting site on Hatteras Island is about 60 miles away from the next one, which is the Board of Elections office.”

Shortly after the court decision, state elections director Kim Strach had urged county boards to be “mindful of expected turnout and historical use of one-stop early voting.” The data, she said, indicates that about 56 percent of voters statewide are expected to use early voting this coming election, “which will reduce lengthy lines on Election Day.”
 
DiBernardo said there were hour-long lines at the polls in Southern Shores for the primary in March, and she expects there will be much higher turnout in November.
But she said she is happy that the board at least adjusted the hours to be somewhat more accommodating to working people.

“Overall, we were disappointed,” she said. “At the same time, it’s a small step in the right direction.”

           
NEW SCHEDULE FOR DARE COUNTY EARLY VOTING


Board of Elections office, Manteo:

Oct. 20 -- 11 a.m.-6 p.m.
Oct. 21 -- 11 a.m.-6 p.m.
Oct. 24 -- 11 a.m.-6 p.m.
Oct. 25 -- 11 a.m.- 6 p.m.
Oct. 26 -- 11 a.m.-6 p.m.
Oct. 27 --  11 a.m.- 6 p.m.
Oct. 28 -- 11 a.m.-6 p.m.
Oct. 31 -- 11 a.m.-6 p.m.
Nov. 1 -- 11 a.m.- 6 p.m.
Nov. 2 --  11 a.m.-6 p.m.
Nov. 3 --  11 a.m.- 6 p.m.
Nov. 4 -- 11 a.m.-6 p.m.
Nov. 5 -- 8:30 a.m.-1 p.m.

Pitts Center, Southern Shores

Oct. 20 --  2.-6 p.m.
Oct. 21 -- 2.-6 p.m.
Oct. 24 --  2-6 p.m.
Oct. 25 -- 2-6 p.m.
Oct. 26 --  10 a.m.-2 p.m.
Oct. 27 --  2-6 p.m.
Oct. 28 -- 2-6 p.m.
Oct. 31 -- 2.-6 p.m.
Nov. 1 -- 10 a.m-2 p.m.
Nov. 2 --   2.-6 p.m.
Nov. 3 --   2.- 6 p.m.
Nov. 4 -- 2.-6 p.m.

Kill Devil Hills Town Hall

Oct. 20 -- 2.-6 p.m.
Oct. 21 -- 2.-6 p.m.
Oct. 24-- 2-6 p.m.
Oct. 25 -- 2-6 p.m.
Oct. 26 -- 10 a.m.-2 p.m.
Oct. 27 --  2-6 p.m.
Oct. 28 --  2-6 p.m.
Oct. 31 --  2.-6 p.m.
Nov. 1 -- 10 a.m-2 p.m.
Nov. 2  -- 2.-6 p.m.
Nov. 3 --  2.- 6 p.m.
Nov. 4 --  2.-6 p.m.

Fessenden Center, Buxton

Oct. 20 -- 2.-6 p.m.
Oct. 21 -- 2.-6 p.m.
Oct. 24 --  2-6 p.m.
Oct. 25 --  2-6 p.m.
Oct. 26 -- 10 a.m.-2 p.m.
Oct. 27 -- 2-6 p.m.
Oct. 28 -- 2-6 p.m.
Oct. 31  -- 2.-6 p.m.
Nov. 1 -- 10 a.m-2 p.m.
Nov. 2 --  2.-6 p.m.
Nov. 3 -- 2.- 6 p.m.
Nov. 4 --  2.-6 p.m.

(Note: The 10 a.m. - 2 p.m. early voting hours were scheduled to accommodate public meetings, and for consistency at the satellite locations.)

            
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