Raleigh leaders hope to boost voter turnout in the City Council election by giving residents more opportunities to cast their ballots early.
For the first time, Raleigh might open early-voting sites in each of the five City Council districts for the October election this year.
In advocating for the change, Councilman Russ Stephenson said the city is trying to increase citizen engagement.
“This is an opportunity to take advantage of the fact that a lot of people are early voting,” Stephenson said, referring to state and federal elections. “The idea is making it more convenient for people to vote, and that means giving them more opportunities to vote.”
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The Raleigh City Council has eight members: the mayor, two at-large representatives, and members who represent five geographical regions.
The 2015 City Council election brought 36,100 Raleigh residents to the polls – roughly a 13 percent turnout. In Wake County, 41 percent of voters turned out for the primary elections last March, which included the presidential primaries.
Residents can cast their ballots for City Council early at the Wake County Board of Elections office on Salisbury Street in downtown Raleigh. In 2015, Raleigh residents who live in any district could vote Sept. 24 to Oct. 3.
In the mayoral race that year, about 6 percent – 2,400 – of the 36,000 ballots were cast early.
Now city leaders want to expand early-voting sites, but it’s unclear where they would be or when they would be open. The Wake County Board of Elections would determine that.
The cost of early voting varies depending on the number of sites and the number of days they are open. The city could pay $10,145 to open an early voting site for a day, or $37,875 to open five voting sites – one for each council district – for two days.
Costs would increase if Raleigh needs to hold a runoff election like it did in 2015.
Mayor Nancy McFarlane said she’s open to the idea but wants to hear from the Board of county Elections before moving forward.
“It might be good to do it if for no other reason to see if it brings more people out to vote,” McFarlane said. “We want people to come out and vote, but we have to be careful how we spend money.”
The idea already has support from council members Mary-Ann Baldwin, David Cox and Mayor Pro Tem Kay Crowder.
“Any time we allow more people to vote, the better the system will work,” Crowder said.
It’s possible the General Assembly will change municipal election practices during its session this spring, said Gary Sims, director of Wake’s Board of Elections. It’s unclear how possible changes could affect early voting.