Town leaders are interested in doing away with their only early voting site this year because the incumbents running in the election are running unopposed.
Town manager Hardin Watkins told the town council at Tuesday night’s work session, the move could save the town $7,000.
But whether that sets a bad precedent – in a political climate that has some suggesting the lawmakers are trying to silence the voices of minorities and young voters by reducing the number of early voting days to six – remains the question.
“I’ve never had a request to pull an early voting site before,” said Gary Sims, director of Wake County Board of Elections.
Sims said he doesn’t know if it is likely the Board of Elections’ board – Sims’ bosses – would approve the town’s request since the funding is already approved. But it is something they would consider.
However, Cherie Poucher, who previously served as director for 24 years, said she doesn’t think much about it. She said municipal elections are different and Garner has always been one of the few municipalities that has asked for an early voting site.
“In municipal elections, the town pays for all expenses,” she said. “For a municipal election you live in that town and polls are all around for the election. But absentee ballot is always available.”
Mayor Ronnie Williams, and council members Ken Marshburn, Jackie Johns and Buck Kennedy will all run unopposed in the November election. It is the first time a council has run unopposed in recent memory, according to the town.
Mayors running unopposed are more common.
Town leaders recently wrote a letter to the board requesting they put the item on their agenda Aug. 18.
Finding a solution
The discussion at Tuesday night’s work session was one of indecision, initially.
“Generally speaking I would not be too excited about diminishing the opportunity for citizens to vote and to vote early,” Mayor Pro-tem Ken Marshburn said. “But having said that, it probably does make sense if we could save some money here, if this is the only thing on the ballot.”
Council members Gra Singleton reminded council members voters can still do a write-in by voting for someone not on the ballot.
Watkins said numbers showed a low voting turnout for municipal elections in Garner. He said only 127 people voted in Garner in 2013, compared to 396 in 2011, and 243 in 2009.
“The only reason you have early voting here, is because you made the decision to do that,” Watkins told the council. “It’s not required by state law and not only did you decide to do that you allocated funding to do so.”
Garner residents can also fill out absentee ballots and send them in or go to the Wake County Board of Elections downtown office and vote.
The costs for the early voting site are based on fixed set-up costs, delivery costs and daily fees based on hours of staff, Watkins said.
Kennedy, who is running, initially suggested just reducing the number of days from six to two, which Marshburn said he’d favor.
Singleton pointed out that voters could vote downtown.
“Let’s confirm whether they can vote at the board of elections,” Kennedy said. If they can vote at the board of elections, use that as an early voting site and shut it down here.”
Council members agreed.