Most people wouldn’t think of Durham County as a place where voting is discouraged. We are voter friendly here. Voting giddy, almost.
But, as we prepare for the November election, something troubling happened.
It started the first week of September, and it has had an undue impact on new county residents who want to register to vote in-person at the Durham County Board of Elections (BOE). It also affects any voter or would-be voter who seeks to do anything at that office, outside of the few folks who work there.
You see, the board has moved from its location on West Corporation Street over near the old Bulls ballpark. And with that, I can now say: good luck finding the new BOE office.
Even if you have a GPS for the address, 201 N. Roxboro, you’re still quite likely to drive by at least once, and then you’ll have to deal with the Downtown Loop a time or two or three.
The ruts and pockmarks on the loop these days make you want to drive it once only, if that often.
Back to the vexing voting matter. The issue with the new BOE office is signage. And after the sign problem comes the parking problem. It’s as if no one in charge thought actual people would stop by.
Not insignificantly, the BOE office is also one of only four “early voting” locations in the county, beginning Oct. 23.
I happened to have some business to do at the BOE the other day, and I happened to know the big building at 201 N. Roxboro. It’s the Judicial Annex behind the old courthouse, kind of diagonally across from the downtown library.
Arriving from the Durham Freeway, I soon slowed on Roxboro and looked left. I passed Parrish Street at 15 mph. I let my car roll slowly past the mirror-like exterior of my general destination. I kept thinking: there has to be a sign for the Board of Elections.
I also wondered, as a few people laid on their horns: there has to be a sign pointing out where we can park to perform our civic duties. However, in mere seconds I was forced to, yes, do the loop.
Once around that regrettably rough track, I struggled my way to a parking spot where I had to pay. It was near the annex but not where I was supposed to park. And as I walked first the side and then the full length of the glimmering annex along Roxboro, I finally saw a Board of Elections sign.
It was little white sign in front of a bush.
It sits on a pole that came up to my knee or thereabouts.
That, dear citizenry, has been the sign for our new Board of Elections. Summoning the masses, it is not.
Further, written in blue on the sad excuse for a sign are not only the words, “Board of Elections.” The names of two other government tenants share the small space.
I later did a test, and a motorist likely can’t read the BOE sign until he or she is about a car length and a half from a turn-in (with traffic behind you), a turn-in that has its own, not much bigger sign.
That one says: “County Parking Lot #27. Restricted Parking. Towing Strictly Enforced.” Really, that’s what it says. It’s a holdover.
If a democracy-loving resident somehow manages to get the car that far, that resident would promptly be greeted by about a dozen parking spots that have big white letters painted on the pavement saying, “RESERVED.” I am not kidding.
There are also three very modest signs on taller poles that say “Customer Parking Only.” Would you take a chance on that contradiction?
To throw a digital wrench into things, I’ve also noted that the most prominent address shown for the Durham County Board of Elections on Google is still … on West Corporation Street. But hey, who can wrestle with Google and win?
BOE Director Michael Perry conceded: “The signage and the parking are problems, yes. People have been telling us.”
My reporting reveals that there’s been, apparently, some miscommunication between the relevant entities: the Board of Elections and the county’s Engineering and Environmental Services staff.
Despite what seems like strong interest from these entities in doing something constructive now, I can’t say when or even if the small signage and scare-you-away parking will be improved. Maybe it’s been done in the last few days. Fingers crossed.
The deadline to register to vote in Durham County is about a week off, at 5 p.m. on the 10th. You can, thankfully, register by mail, but the clock is ticking fast.
If you have in-person voter registration business to take care of, or want to vote early downtown from Oct. 23-Nov. 1, I certainly urge you to go ahead. If you’re driving, take that spin to see if you can find the BOE office, along with one of those free “RESERVED” parking spots.
Fill up your water bottle before you go.
You can reach Tom Gasparoli at firstname.lastname@example.org or 919-219-0042.