August 17, 2016

Dare commissioners decline to take up resolution on early voting hours


The Dare County Board of Commissioners declined to entertain a motion presented by a citizen during public comment to ask the county's Board of Elections to expand the early voting hours that are currently planned for November's election.

Both Audrey Esposito of the Dare County League of Women Voters (LWV) and Sandy Semans Ross, an advocate for Democracy NC, criticized the Board of Elections' current early voting plan during the public comment period during the Monday night meeting of the commissioners.

Esposito said she and the league were "disappointed" by the board's refusal to expand early voting hours, especially to include more weekend hours.  She noted to the commissioners that more people voted on the one Saturday that was available for early voting in the March primary than voted during all the weekdays combined.

Ross noted that Dare County ranked 93rd among North Carolina's 100 counties in early voting, falling "well below the state average in turnout and hours available," she said.

Both Ross and LWV representatives have been attending Board of Elections meetings over the summer urging members to expand early voting hours, which had been set from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. on weekdays and on one Saturday only -- and only at the board's office in Manteo.  No Saturday hours are being offered at satellite early voting locations -- the Pitts Center in Southern Shores, Kill Devil Hills Town Hall, and the Fessenden Center in Buxton.

The Board of Elections met again last Friday, Aug. 12, to reconsider its hours after a U.S. Court of Appeals decision that struck down parts of North Carolina's new voting law, including the requirement for a voter ID and a part that cut back the hours for early voting. LWV representatives and Ross were among those who attended the meeting as asked for expanded weekday hours for citizens to vote before and after work and more weekend hours, including Saturdays and Sundays.

The League presented the results of an informal survey it conducted that found that most of the 355 respondents favored more weekend, early morning and/or evening hours for early voting.

Ten people commented at the Board of Elections Friday meeting -- nine in favor of expanded hours.

The board agreed to tweak the hours to include voting until 6 p.m. in the evening, but did not add any early morning hours and did not add any more than the single Saturday of voting that the law requires.  There was no Sunday voting added, and the Saturday voting is in Manteo only.

At the Board of Commissioners meeting, Esposito and Ross noted that the North Carolina Board of Elections has issued guidance to the local boards, calling on them to be prepared for a heavy turnout in November, a Presidential election year.  The two women also noted that there were long lines at many Dare County  precincts in the March primary, which they said was another reason to add more early voting hours.

Michelle Barnes, Board of Elections director, told Island Free Press reporter Catherine Kozak that Dare County has never had more than one Saturday of early voting and that no one has asked for  more.

Ross told the Board of Commissioners that may be because  Dare citizens don't realize that the early-voting schedule is set by each county, not in Raleigh.

Ross and Esposito also told the commissioners that time "was of the essence" because the Board of Elections had only until Friday, Aug. 19, to make its early-voting schedule final.

Ross then read a resolution calling for the Board of Elections to expand voting hours.

After public comment, Board Chairman Bob Woodard asked the commissioners if they wished to take up the issue of early voting.  Woodard said he would support asking the Board of Elections chairman to address the commissioners about the early voting issue at their next meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 6.

Commissioner Margarette Umphlett made a motion to invite the Board of Elections to the Sept. 6 meeting, and it was seconded by Commissioner Jack Shea.

During discussion, Umphlett noted that she was not in favor of voting at the Monday evening meeting before the commissioners had a chance to talk to the Board of Elections.

The motion to issue the invitation to the elections board chairman to attend the Sept. 6 meeting passed unanimously.

Commissioner Warren Judge then made a motion that the board reconsider and adopt the resolution presented by Ross.

Judge noted the spread-out nature of the county's population, and thus the need for more hours at satellite early-voting offices, and the fact that Dare County "has a working population" needing hours before and after work to vote.

He called the resolution "sharing our desire to expand access for all of Dare County to exercise their right to vote."

The motion died for lack of a second, so there was no vote.


A Resolution Calling for The Dare County Board of Elections to Expand Early Voting Hours

Whereas in 2012, Dare County ranked 93rd in early voting, falling well below the state average in turnout and in hours available; and

Whereas the recent court decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals has reinstated a longer early voting period and given the Board of Elections an opportunity to expand early voting; and

Whereas The North Carolina Board of Elections has issued guidance to local Boards of Election calling for them to prepare for heavy voter turnout in this election cycle; and

Whereas There were long lines at many precincts during primary voting in Dare County; and

Whereas expanding early voting hours to include voting before 9:00 a.m., voting during evening hours, and voting on Saturday and Sunday at satellite sites would allow more voters to easily participate in the election, reduce wait times on election day and promote participation in our democracy; and

Whereas The Dare Board of Elections has adopted an early voting plan that  has no early morning voting, no Sunday voting and only one day of Saturday voting at one location.

Therefore, the Dare County Board of Commissioners requests that the Dare County Board of Elections reconsider its early voting plan adopted on Monday, August 8, and submit a plan that provides early morning voting, Sunday voting and expands Saturday hours and locations.

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