Voters take advantage of Sunday voting

jmurawski@newsobserver.comOctober 28, 2012 

Some came directly from church, strolling in their Sunday finery. Others stopped by while running errands in frayed pants and worn sweatshirts. All said Sunday offered the best opportunity to perform their civic duty: voting.

Sunday voting is a relatively recent electoral phenomenon that is increasingly embraced by African American churches, organizing get-out-the-vote caravans dubbed “Souls to the Polls.” Sunday voting also is increasingly targeted by critics in this state and elsewhere who want to see the practice banned.

In Raleigh, a line had formed before doors opened at 1 p.m. to admit early voters at the Chavis Community Center, one of 16 locations in Wake County that was open Sunday for early voting.

Voters arrived alone, in families and in transportation vans from Raleigh’s oldest black church, the 134-year-old Macedonia New Life Church, as well as the nearby Good Samaritan Baptist Church in Garner. These congregations, and many others, provide shuttle service to early voting locations every day of the week for their members.

Nearly all voters Sunday said it was their first time voting on Sunday. They praised the option as making voting easier for people whose weekday schedules call for long hours or require travel, making it difficult to cast a ballot.

“I’m proud for there to be a line,” Marion Nixon, a resident of Southeast Raleigh, said of the community turnout. Nixon and his extended family voted before the family’s weekly Soul Food Sunday gathering.

“For my kids to eat, they have to come here to vote,” he said. “This is to get them to vote.”

Alfonza Jones of Southeast Raleigh works as a truck driver and said his job requires him to spend weekdays out of state.

“I probably wouldn’t have time to vote on a weekday,” he said. “Sunday voting is real good because it’s a leisure day for most working people.”

A growing trend

North Carolina’s legislature approved Sunday voting in 2000 and it has been growing in popularity. This year, 21 of North Carolina’s 100 counties have polling places open on Sundays, up from a dozen counties four years ago, said Bob Hall, executive director of Democracy North Carolina, an election watchdog group that supports Sunday voting.

But critics of Sunday voting say it makes for an unhealthy mix of politics and religion. Republicans in this state tried to end the practice in 2011 but the legislation failed. In recent weeks Sunday voting was challenged in several counties, but the practice was upheld by the N.C. Board of Elections.

The dispute has played out across other states, and Florida recently barred voting on the Sunday before Election Day. In North Carolina, early voting will end this Saturday.

Strong black turnout

Sundays bring strong turnout here for black voters, who traditionally tend to vote for Democratic Party candidates. On Oct. 21, Hall said, African Americans made up 44 percent of the state’s Sunday voters last week, even though they are only 22 percent of registered voters in North Carolina. The voting patterns from this Sunday will be available Monday.

Bobby Terrell, chair of the deacons ministry at Good Samaritan Baptist Church, piloted the church van to the Chavis Community Center. He dismissed the notion that voting is inappropriate on Sunday and noted that the Lord’s Day was made for performing good deeds.

“To my knowledge, there are no restrictions on doing God’s will, and [voting] is God’s will,” Terrell said.

Murawski: 919-829-8932

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