The town council voted to rescind a letter it sent to the Wake County Board of Elections asking permission to eliminate an early voting site for this year, since its candidates were running unopposed.
Last week, Town Manager Hardin Watkins proposed eliminating the site in order to save the town $7,000. The Wake County Board of Elections’ would have had to approve it. So town leaders sent a letter to the board asking them to place the item for discussion on its next meeting’s agenda.
But the proposal brought into question the precedent it would set for Garner, especially during a time when the state is being sued by a number of groups for reducing the number of early voting days, among other things.
After a brief discussion last week, the town council agreed that saving the $7,000 would be beneficial since the incumbents were running unopposed. Most of those who spoke up at the meeting were running.
Watkins presented statistics that showed a decline in 2013 for early voting in Garner; the last time a municipal election was held.
But council members apparently had a change of heart, instead opting to encourage voters to vote early, in hopes it will increase voter turnout. Voters can still vote for write-ins – candidates who did not make the ballot they think will make a good leader.
Council members agreed Monday night they were too quick when deciding they would send the letter.
“In the interim I have heard from some constituents expressing concern about the elimination of early voting,” Mayor Pro Tem Ken Marshburn said. “The concern seemed to be this was the elimination of a voting opportunity, voting right, if you will, that folks have become accustomed to.
“In particular, part of the concern I heard was some of our more senior citizens, who lack the ability to maybe get about, transportation-wise, as others do, would certainly miss this opportunity,” he continued.
Marshburn is one of three on the council running for re-election. Buck Kennedy and Jackie Johns, and Mayor Ronnie Williams are also running.
Marshburn proposed rescinding the letter sent on July 29 to the board of elections, and reintroducing early voting. He commended the town for giving residents of Garner a local place to vote early. Garner is one of the few municipalities in Wake County that has an early voting site.
Council member Johns said the same.
“After hearing from a couple of people talk about this, I thought about it,” Johns said. “We don’t want to take away the privilege of the taxpayers and citizens of Garner something that we have granted to them. And at our last meeting...the board I think was so excited about mostly not having anybody run against us, we never even thought about this situation.”
The vote was 4-0 in favor of rescinding the letter. Council member Gra Singleton was absent during the vote.
“We’re never too big to admit we made a mistake and I think we made a mistake,” Williams said.
Council member Buck Kennedy said although voters can vote in downtown Raleigh, it is not as convenient as voting in Garner. He encouraged people to exercise their right to vote, despite the fact that the candidates are running unopposed.
“One of the worst things for us as elected officials is to not have the back end of the people,” Kennedy said. “So use the opportunity. Vote early and often.”