Wake County

Raleigh picks 5 early voting sites for council elections

Jill Grifenhagen reads a book to her son, Linus, as they wait in line for early voting at the Lake Lynn Community Center in Raleigh, N.C. Wednesday, October 26, 2016.
Jill Grifenhagen reads a book to her son, Linus, as they wait in line for early voting at the Lake Lynn Community Center in Raleigh, N.C. Wednesday, October 26, 2016. cliddy@newsobserver.com

Voters will likely have more opportunities to vote in this fall’s Raleigh City Council election than ever before.

The council recently asked the Wake County Board of Elections to allow early voting at the board’s downtown office and five other sites during a four-day span prior to the Oct. 10 election.

Raleigh residents in recent years have been able to vote early through absentee ballots or at the Board of Elections office on Salisbury Street downtown, where many of the parking options charge a fee. Early voting is allowed up to 17 days before the election.

Elected leaders now want to open a polling site in each of the council’s five districts between Wednesday, Oct. 4, and Saturday, Oct. 7. The sites would be open 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Oct. 4-6 and 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Oct. 7.

The sites must be approved by the county elections board, which is scheduled to meet July 18.

Raleigh’s push for more early voting sites comes two years after what many people considered a low-turnout City Council election. In 2015, 36,100 Raleigh residents cast ballots – roughly a 13 percent turnout.

By contrast, 41 percent of Wake County voters turned out for the primary election last March, which included the presidential primaries.

Councilwoman Mary-Ann Baldwin said she hopes the new early voting sites would make it easier for residents to vote.

“Early voting gives people options to vote and encourages participation – especially among communities who may feel disenfranchised,” Baldwin said.

Adding the sites would cost the city $47,600. But it could pay up to $95,200 if runoff elections are needed, said Nick Sadler, a budget analyst for the city.

Gary Sims, Wake’s elections director, said he expects the board to approve the sites regardless of the current political uncertainty of elections boards across the state.

Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, is in a legal battle with Republican state legislators who approved a new law that changes the structure of North Carolina’s elections system. Cooper asked the N.C. Supreme Court to block the change.

At the local level, the change would expand elections boards from three members to four and require a political split (two Republicans and two Democrats) instead of allowing the governor’s party to control two of three seats.

The terms of Wake’s three board members have expired, and the county is still waiting for the legal process to play out and new members to be appointed, Sims said. No matter who is serving on the board, he said Raleigh’s request likely won’t be denied.

“That has never happened since I’ve been working in elections,” Sims said.

Joey Stansbury, a conservative Raleigh resident who frequently criticizes the council, said he doesn’t think additional early voting sites are worth taxpayers’ money because incumbents usually maintain their seats and also because most residents aren’t engaged in city politics.

“I don’t think that early voting will produce any noticeable change in voter turnout,” he said. “The Raleigh City Council may have a problem with citizen engagement, but they certainly don’t have any problem engaging their wallets for another wasteful venture.”

Here are the proposed early voting sites:

▪ District A: Ann Gordon Center for Active Adults at 1901 Spring Forest Road;

▪ District B: Green Road Community Center at 4201 Green Road;

▪ District C: Roberts Community Center at 1300 E. Martin St.;

▪ District D: Method Road Community Center at 514 Method Road;

▪ District E: Lake Lynn Community Center at 7921 Ray Road.

Paul A. Specht: 919-829-4870, @AndySpecht