There’s a pageantry to the democratic process, to coming of age and registering to vote, to being courted by parties and candidates, ostensibly searching one’s soul for the Right Thing. Then we stand in line on Election Day, step behind a curtain or partition, mark a ballot and make our voices heard.
Well, on Election Day or the two weeks prior.
This year, early voting begins in Johnston County Oct. 20 and runs until Nov. 5, the Saturday before Election Day. County elections supervisor Leigh Ann Price expects around half of all votes cast in this election to come before Election Day, and she said her office would be overwhelmed were it not for those two extra weeks of voting.
“Personally, I love early voting,” Price said. “It makes everything a whole lot easier. There are fewer problems on Election Day.”
Early voting in Johnston County started in 2006 but really took off in 2008. That year, Price said, Johnston voters cast 36,000 ballots on Election Day, plus another 34,000 through early voting. The next presidential election, voters cast nearly 10,000 more early ballots, and Price expects that number to climb even higher this year.
“We’re anticipating 50,000 people will vote early,” she said.
This year, Johnston will have five early polling places spread over the county, and voters may use any of the five they wish. First Baptist Church in Smithfield will start early voting Thursday Oct. 20, and then the Church at Clayton Crossings, the Archer Lodge Community Center and the Benson American Legion Building will start early voting Thursday, Oct. 27. Johnston Community College’s Cleveland Campus will host early voting starting Friday Oct. 28.
Voter registration ends Oct. 14 and must be completed by then if one intends to vote on Election Day. Johnstonians who miss that deadline can still cast ballots through early voting, which allows same day-registration. Over the summer, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down North Carolina’s voter ID law, which ended same-day registration and shortened the state’s early-voting period to 10 days.
Price said the legal fate of the state’s voting law meant retraining Johnston poll workers.
“All of our training materials had to be changed, and we had to redo all of our training,” she said, noting that the county’s March primary, which required a photo ID, went well. “With as much advertising as the state board of elections did, and all of our signage, we didn’t have any trouble at all. Everybody was prepared to show an ID. We probably had four or five cast provisional ballots (because of the law), if that many.”
With only five sites offering early voting, Price said lines might seem longer, but she assures voters they’ll move quickly. If it weren’t for early voting, Price said, precincts would be inundated on Election Day, and many voters might become discouraged waiting in excessively long lines.
“There’s no way our precincts could have held 70,000 people on Election Day,” Price said of 2008.
“It’s a cost savings for us,” she added, “because we don’t need as many Election Day workers, and Election Days are run much more smoothly.”
Though they’re cast early, ballots from early voting aren’t tabulated until Election Day. Price said her office counts the votes at 2 p.m. on Election Day and announces the results at 7:30 that night.
Johnston County’s decision to close two schools on Election Day caught regional attention, but Price said more schools could have been affected. Typically, 10 schools serve as polling places, but given the contentious nature of this election year, that number was limited to just River Dell Elementary and East Clayton Elementary, Price said.
In the future, though, more schools will likely serve as polling places.
“If we have more than 3,500 (voters) in a precinct, we can redraw the lines and add polling places,” Price said. “We currently have at least eight that are over that. It won’t happen next year, but in 2018, we will probably have to use more schools.”
For more information on early voting, visit www.johnstonnc.com/joconcelections.
Drew Jackson: 919-553-7234, Ext. 104; @jdrewjackson
Want to vote early?
Here are the early voting sites in Johnston County, with their hours and dates.
First Baptist Church Ministry Center, 125 S. Fourth St., Smithfield — 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Oct. 20-21; 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Oct. 22; 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Oct. 24-28; 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Oct. 29; 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Oct. 31-Nov. 4; and 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Nov. 5.
The Church at Clayton Crossings, 11407 U.S. 70 Business West, Clayton — 10 a.m.-8:30 p.m. Oct. 27-28; 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Oct. 29; 10 a.m.-8:30 p.m. Oct. 31-Nov. 4; and 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Nov. 5.
Archer Lodge Community Center, 14009 Buffalo Road, Clayton — 10 a.m.-8:30 p.m. Oct. 27-28; 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Oct. 29; 10 a.m.-8:30 p.m. Oct. 31-Nov. 4; and 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Nov. 5.
Benson American Legion Building, 605 N. Wall St., Benson — 10 a.m.-8:30 p.m. Oct. 27-28; 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Oct. 29; 10 a.m.-8:30 p.m. Oct. 31-Nov. 4; and 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Nov. 5.
Johnston Community College Cleveland Campus, 9046 Cleveland Road, Clayton — 10 a.m.-8:30 p.m. Oct. 28; 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Oct. 29; 10 a.m.-8:30 p.m. Oct. 31-Nov. 4; and 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Nov. 5.