RALEIGH — Wake County Commissioner Tony Gurley called a list of early voting sites approved for the November elections Wednesday clearly partisan in favor of Democrats and said the board of commissioners he and his fellow Republicans control may cut funds for voting sites in response.
Meanwhile, Democrats said the list of 15 sites is inadequate to match the countys growth in what could be a high-turnout election, short-changing voters outside Raleigh to the east.
After a heated five-hour meeting of the Wake County Board of Elections, few walked out happy.
Im just not buying 15 sites for $1.7 million, said Octavia Rainey, an activist in Southeast Raleigh. We had 15 sites in 2008 for less money, and the population of Raleigh has increased drastically.
Early votings popularity has exploded in North Carolina. In 2008, nearly 2.6 million people more than 40 percent of registered voters voted early or by mail compared to 1.1 million in 2004. Early voting statewide in 2008 skewed heavily toward Democrats with 52 percent of the votes coming from registered Democrats and 30 percent from registered Republicans. Wake Countys early voting patterns matched or exceeded the state pattern.
Wednesdays meeting drew outrage first from Southeast Raleigh because the Chavis Community Center had been left off the list. After it was restored, replacing nearby Roberts Park as a site, talk turned to adding a 16th Marsh Creek site in East Raleigh, just outside the I-440 Beltline.
We are looking at a higher turnout this year and we have heard from voter after voter that there is a need, said board member Kristi Tally.
But the boards two other members voted against adding it, saying funding and equipment were inadequate.
On its list of 15 sites, the board approved four new ones that will be open 15 days, four days longer than the rest.
Those sites: N.C. State Universitys Talley Student Center, Chavis and Optimist parks in Raleigh and the Cary Senior Center.
The boards downtown Raleigh office is also open 15 days.
Gurley said three of the four sites, not including Cary, lie in heavily Democratic territory.
Absolutely its political, Gurley said. On behalf of the majority members of this (county board of elections), who are the Democratic party of this county.
The board is appointed by the state Board of Elections, which will also review the early voting plan. Political parties recommend members, which now include two from Democrats and one from Republicans.
Gurley said he thought the vote was stacked to Democrats even though a Republican had voted in favor. He called that vote an inappropriate compromise.
Gurley said the board of commissioners offered a $1.7 million budget for early voting on the idea that all 15 sites would be open for 13 days. With four sites open longer, the rest will be shortened to 11.
I think thats discriminating against the majority of the citizens of this county to benefit a few, he said. I think we should reduce the funding.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Shaffer: (919) 829-4818