RALEIGH — N.C. State University students will have to make their way off campus to vote early in the general election this fall, but residents of Southeast Raleigh will be able to vote early at Chavis Community Center, the Wake County Board of Elections decided Tuesday.
After nearly three hours of discussion during a meeting that drew an audience of at least 75 people, the three-man board agreed unanimously on five of the eight early-voting sites it needed to choose and settled on the last three by a 2-1 vote. The county is required by law to use the Board of Elections office, located downtown, bringing the total number of sites to nine.
During the meeting, the board heard from more than three dozen public speakers, many of whom argued in favor of early-voting sites on campus at NCSU, at Chavis, or both.
Several speakers said voters should be willing to suffer the inconvenience of having to drive a few miles to a polling place. One speaker told the board he didnt believe in early voting at all and said that people should vote only on Election Day.
While not as openly political as voter redistricting, the selection of polling places can bring complaints of favoritism and marginalization. While Tuesdays agenda did not include action on the hours during which early voting would be available, some in the crowd also complained that a recent decision to rearrange those hours will reduce the number of working-class people who will be able to use early voting.
We cannot stand any more disenfranchisement of people, Barbara Smalley-McMahan told the board.
NCSU and Chavis Community Center generated the most emotional interest of the sites being considered; NCSU because it would appeal to college students at a time when many are deciding how or whether to become active in civic life, and Chavis because it is a historical touchstone in Raleighs black community.
Unlike the Board of Education building, which is not open on Sundays, Chavis can be open after church when many African-American churches conduct a voter drive called Souls to the Polls, in which people ride together in church vans to vote.
Board Chairman David S. Robinson thanked all those who attended, but said it was not the boards job to decide polling places based on their ability to draw particular types of voters: the first-timers, for example, who might use a site on campus at N.C. State, or the African-Americans who populate some of the neighborhoods around Chavis Community Center.
By direction of the N.C. General Assembly, Robinson said, the boards job is to alleviate bottlenecks so that no site stands out for its long wait times.
Robinson and fellow board members Mark Ezzell and Brian Ratledge agreed unanimously on these sites:
• Optimist Community Center in North Raleigh,
• Knightdale Recreation Center,
• Apex Community Center,
• Herbert Young Community Center in Cary, and
• The Northern Regional Center in Wake Forest.
With Robinson and Ezzell voting together, they also approved:
• Chavis Community Center,
• Lake Lynn Community Center, and
• Wake Technical Community Colleges main campus near Fuquay-Varina.
Robinson didnt initially like Wake Tech as a site because in the past it has drawn relatively low numbers of voters, but the county has few choices in that area that have sufficient parking and flexibility of hours.
Ezzell had hoped for NCSU to get an early-voting site but was happy to see Chavis selected, since all the other sites selected are outside the beltline except for the Board of Elections office, which has no parking, is not available after hours during the week and is limited on the weekends.
Ratledge did not think the board needed another inside-the-beltline site besides the elections office.
In addition to Wake Tech and Lake Lynn, Ratledge preferred the Avery Street Recreation Center in Garner.