NC State Board of Elections Referees County Disputes on Early Voting

[Image via greensboro]

Over the weekend, the North Carolina State Board of Elections (NCSBE) stepped in to resolve county disputes regarding timing and location of early voting – generally approving plans that keep Sunday voting and preserve on-campus options for students. WRAL has more:

Wake County will have 10 early voting sites this fall, including one on the North Carolina State University campus.

The county will also have 10 hours of Sunday voting at nine different sites after the State Board of Elections & Ethics Enforcement sided with local Democrats who pushed the more robust plan.

Sunday voting will be split over two weekends: Oct. 21 and Oct. 28. Saturday voting will run from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on the three Saturdays before the election.

The state board met Sunday in Winston-Salem ahead of a statewide gathering of local and state election officials. It set early voting plans, nailing down locations and hours, for 15 counties around the state, including Wake, Durham and Orange counties.

Local election boards in these counties had failed to find unanimity on their early voting plans, kicking the issue up to the state board under North Carolina law. Sunday’s meeting lasted more than six hours as Republicans and Democrats laid out their competing plans in each county.

WRAL News monitored the meeting by telephone, through a conference call set up by the state board.

An unaffiliated NCSBE member repeatedly sided with Democrats in support of expanding hours and access:

Sunday voting repeatedly divided the board, with Democrats and the board’s lone unaffiliated member, who was appointed by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, siding with plans that included Sunday voting over those that did not. In some cases, the state board went against plans with bipartisan support from local county boards in order to do so.

The state board unanimously backed Durham County’s plan, going with six sites and two Sundays of early voting. This will be roughly what Durham voters encountered during the May primaries, except for the longer voting hours mandated earlier this year when the General Assembly changed the state’s early voting rules.

Three of four Durham County board members had supported this, but Chairman Luke Farley, a Republican, wanted to go with seven sites and no Sunday voting. Farley would have put the seventh site in southwest Durham County, according to meeting materials.

Orange County will have five sites and two Sundays of voting. Two other competing plans would have had five and four sites, respectively, with no Sunday voting.

The high-profile dispute about voting at North Carolina State University (which I blogged about back in July) also went Democrats’ way, over Republican objections:

Wake County’s board divided along party lines over opening a site at the Talley Student Union at N.C. State. Democrats insisted on the location when the local board met in July. Republicans were equally insistent that it not be included, citing in part poor parking at the student union and the fact that Wake County’s plan already had two sites inside Interstate 440.

“It’s not just unacceptable, it’s horrible,” Eddie Woodhouse, a Republican member of the Wake County Board of Elections, said Sunday.

The university has committed to increased parking at the site compared with past elections, promising 36 spaces, plus room for staff. The university busing system also stops at the site and is free to students and non-students alike. A GoRaleigh bus also stops at the center, according to a university letter pitching the site.

State board members had large amounts of data at their fingertips Sunday, including a summary of each plan presented, along with turnout data. More than 3,000 pages of public comments were submitted for and against various plans.

It’s remarkable how important the NCSBE and its tiebreaking procedures has become in refereeing these disputes, given the parties’ apparently very different views on early voting. I would say I hope county boards could find consensus more often, but the reality is that these NCSBE meetings, and the identity of that ninth affiliated member, are going to be significant for years to come.

Stay tuned …

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