August 25, 2016


Election board meets again, makes
no changes to early voting

BY CATHERINE KOZAK

A hastily-called meeting was held Wednesday by the Dare County Board of Elections to approve an early voting schedule that had been improperly voted on last week in a conference call.  

After it was pointed out to county Board of Elections director Michelle Barnes that the Aug. 16 vote was not conducted in public as required by law, it was decided to re-do the vote in a public meeting.

Despite several comments from the public on Wednesday urging that the schedule be expanded with more weekend hours, the board approved the same plan, which had amended an earlier plan by adding more morning hours in Manteo, but no additional hours on Saturday or Sunday.

The plan has weekend hours only in Manteo, on Saturday, Nov. 5 from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.

 “This should not be a political matter at all,” said Fountain Odom, chairman of the Dare County Democratic Party. “We ought to make it as easy as possible and encouraging for all registered voters in Dare County.”

Sandy Semans Ross, a Stumpy Point resident representing Democracy NC, a non-partisan voting advocacy group, suggested to the board that Tuesday to Saturday hours would better serve older citizens and working families, without adding more hours to the schedule.

“The problem is not that people know that there is early voting or where it is,” she said, “it’s that they can’t get there.”

In an email sent Friday to Barnes, Ross – a longtime open meetings law proponent -- had informed her that the conference call the board held last week was a violation of the state statute because it provided no public access to the phone call, essentially making it a closed meeting.  Also, there was no public notice issued.  

In supporting Ross’ proposed scheduled, Rosemarie Doshier, an East Lake resident and a Democratic candidate for the Dare County Board of Commissioners, said that she has family members in Kill Devil Hills who have had to wait in line for 1 hours to vote. Providing more weekend hours, she said, would decrease lines and provide more opportunities to get to the polls.  

“Most workers here are blue collar workers,” she said. “They can’t take off hours to vote.”

But the three member board – Lynda Midgett, a Democrat;  Chair Donna Elms, a Republican, and Secretary Carole Warnecki, a Republican – voted unanimously to accept the same amended plan it had approved last week over the phone. That schedule expanded early voting available at the board of elections office in Manteo from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m, rather than 11 a.m. as the earlier plan.

The extra hours in the morning made it easier to stop to vote before work or school, and were consistent with when the office was opened for normal business hours, Barnes said.

But several people in the audience objected to the board voting without any discussion, and others said that the meeting was held without the required 48-hour notice. Ross said later that she is reviewing options about the legal question.

“It’s all illegal,” Odom shouted at the board after the vote.

Responding, Warnecki said that if the plan was not approved, the board would revert back to the original proposed schedule that offered fewer hours for early voting. She denied accusations from the audience that she was issuing a threat, or that the board was being “dictatorial.”

In an interview after the meeting, Barnes and the board members defended not expanding weekend hours at any location beyond what the law required.

“We haven’t found that it’s been needed,” Warnecki said.

Elms said that it is only the representatives of the League of Women Voters and Democracy NC – both nonpartisan groups -- that have raised the issue as part of a statewide campaign. But she said “it’s not a real problem” in the county.

“We’ve never had voters complain,” Elms said. “They find times to vote.”

Warnecki also said that the board had not been influenced by a recent email sent out by the head of state Republican Party advising Republican board members how to limit early voting.

“If we had responded to that, we would have cut hours,” she said.
 
The board members all said that they represent voters of all political parties in an equal manner.

“We have always served this county as a non-partisan board,” said Midgett, a veteran member and former long-time director.

Voters who cannot get to the polls can request an absentee ballot from the board of elections or print out an online form. The ballots must be received by the board of elections office no later than Nov. 1.

 Prior to Election Day on Nov. 8, voters will be able to cast their ballot for 13 days from Oct. 20 to Nov. 5 at the Board of Elections office and for 12 days at satellite sites in Southern Shores, Kill Devil Hills and Buxton. On Oct. 26 and Nov. 1, satellite locations will be opened 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. to accommodate public meetings. Otherwise, the satellites will offer early voting from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Barnes said that with the additional hours, early voting is available for a total of 262.5 hours.

Also called one-stop voting, under the law, the early voting allows registered voters to appear in person at designated locations starting the second Thursday before an election and no later than 1 p.m. on the Saturday before an election.

A recent court ruling restored seven days of early voting that had been cut by the state’s controversial voter ID law. But the judge’s ruling left the hours and locations up to the discretion of the local election boards.

Just prior to the law being thrown out, the Dare board had set early voting hours for Monday – Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and the mandated Saturday morning before Election Day at the Board of Elections office in Manteo.  It later expanded hours in the afternoon to 6 p.m. at the satellite locations.

RELATED ARTICLES

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