Early voters swarm election sites

abaird@newsobserver.comOctober 24, 2012 

— A huge line of voters awaited poll workers in Wake Forest on Wednesday morning when they opened the doors of the Northern Regional Center for early voting. Total time to navigate the line and leave with an “I Voted” sticker: 90 minutes.

The long waits to vote in some counties prompted Gary Bartlett, the State Board of Elections director, this week to ask counties to extend early voting hours.

Bob Hall predicted such a scene earlier this year when the General Assembly passed a budget without the $664,000 appropriation needed to release more than $4 million in federal money to help with elections.

Hall, executive director of Democracy North Carolina, an election advocacy group, said at the time that the lack of federal funding would mean “less early voting sites, longer lines, more voter disenfranchisement.”

But on Wednesday, Hall had a different assessment: “It’s not as bad as it could have been, because we struggled around the state to make up for the loss at the county level.”

Still, he added, “We could have more sites, better locations and more evening hours.”

As of Tuesday, 720,797 votes had been cast through one-stop absentee voting, according to the State Board of Elections. By this time in 2008, 562,068 had voted.

Election officials in Wake, Durham and Johnston counties said they had found enough support at the county level to make up for the federal dollars, and offered varying explanations for the long lines.

Expecting the crowds, Wake County opened an additional early voting site, and many locations are staying open longer. Cherie Poucher, the county’s election director, said the county had enough sites and staff to handle the spike in voter turnout. Compared with 2008 in Wake County, an additional 15,000 votes had been cast through Wednesday.

As for the long lines that have taken some voters a couple of hours to navigate, Poucher blamed first-day excitement that caused people to line up before polls opened. “When you (have) hundreds of people in line before it opens, you can only process so many people at a time, so you’re going to have a wait,” she said.

Poucher said people could help shorten waits if they familiarized themselves with the ballot beforehand, or if they voted at off times – after lunch or before people get off work.

Jacqué Griffin, site supervisor of a poll at Chavis Community Center in Southeast Raleigh, said the crowd was overwhelming when voting started there on Oct. 18 but has leveled out since. On Wednesday, the center’s small parking lot was still full, but several people who voted said they were in and out in less than 15 minutes.

“We could always use more people working or more space, but we’re getting people in and out,” she said.

Michael Perry, Durham County’s election director, and Leigh Anne Price, Johnston County’s election director, said they anticipated the loss of federal funds and sent budgets to the county commissions to account for that.

Perry said he submitted a budget to the county commission and ended up with “exactly what they needed” to make up for the loss and prevent unreasonable waits. “Things haven’t been too bad, other than the first day,” he said.

In 2008, Price said Johnston County used the extra funding to cover the cost of early voting.

“I knew the loss was forthcoming, so I increased the budget request to cover that, and to add an early voting site,” said Price, adding that the amount shifted to the county was around $40,000 for personnel and site rentals.

While the Triangle has fared relatively well, other counties haven’t been as fortunate.

Jack Hudson, president of the bipartisan Election Boards Association of North Carolina, was among those upset when the federal funds were dropped from the budget, and he said Transylvania County, where he is a longtime resident, didn’t have an easy time making up for the loss.

Hudson said the county had to consolidate a few precincts into one larger facility that was compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act.

“We could’ve applied to the state board to make those other precincts ADA compliant, and people would have a shorter drive,” he said. “It has the potential of affecting the election, although I admit minimally so.”

So far, voters are putting up with the wait times.

Cathy Bradley, a retired Wake County teacher, said it helped that the “weather was pretty” but said she would have stayed under any circumstance: “This election is too important to miss,” she said

Baird: 919-829-4696

News & Observer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service