Voting site wasn't settled

Chatham board voted 2-1, but unanimous vote is required

Staff WriterApril 7, 2006 

Members of the public and the media left a meeting Wednesday thinking the Chatham County Board of Elections had approved a much-sought early voting site in northeastern Chatham for the primary May 2.

It didn't.

Despite a 2-1 vote to establish the site at North Chatham School, the measure did not pass because state election law requires a unanimous vote to approve a remote early voting site.

Several residents who attended the meeting did not realize that.

Newspapers including The News & Observer also reported Thursday that the measure had passed and was headed to the State Board of Elections for final approval.

"I did leave thinking it was approved," said lawyer Jeffrey Starkweather of the Chatham Coalition, the group that has pushed for a voting site in the heavily populated northeastern part of the county. "I didn't know until this morning."

Carrie Little, principal of North Chatham School, also left thinking the measure had passed.

"Everybody in the entire room thought it was done," she said Thursday.

Board Chairwoman Audrey Poe said it was not the board's fault if people misunderstood the vote.

"We did not explain the law to the group because we don't have to," she said Thursday afternoon.

Poe said that because the vote fell shy, board member Ernest Dark, a Democrat, will appeal it to the State Board of Elections. The state had told the local board to set up the precinct after receiving numerous complaints from residents.

Board member Craig Bray, the Republican who voted against the precinct, had said he, too, planned to "appeal" after Wednesday's vote, further leading those in the room to think the site had been approved.

"I don't feel like it's necessary," he said in an interview after the meeting. "We've never done it before."

But on Thursday, Poe said that Bray knew the site had not been approved and was using the wrong word. What he really meant was that he planned to protest the Democratic board member's appeal, she said.

"[Bray] has not been on the board but two years," Poe said, explaining his misuse of words.

Staff writer Leah Friedman can be reached at 932-2002 or leah.friedman@newsobserver.com.

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