Wake County

An early voting site at NC State? After split along party lines, the state will decide.

More than 100 Shaw University and St. Augustine's University students marched to vote on Oct. 1, 2014.
More than 100 Shaw University and St. Augustine's University students marched to vote on Oct. 1, 2014.

The state elections board will decide on the locations and hours of early voting sites in Wake County, after local election leaders disagreed along party lines Tuesday.

The Wake County Board of Elections voted 2-2, with Democrats for and Republicans against the idea of offering early voting on the N.C. State University campus this fall.

The nine-member North Carolina Board of Elections will now make the final decision on all of the county's early voting locations.

Greg Flynn, a Democrat and chairman of the Wake County board, said he could have compromised on a number of issues, including the impact to the county's budget to pay for more early voting sites. But he couldn't compromise when it came to having an early voting location at the Talley Student Union at NCSU, he said.

"It's no different," Flynn said. "In my mind it's just political opposition to N.C. State and just as there is political opposition to have a polling site at (Appalachian State University)."

Calling himself "the biggest N.C. State fan," vice chairman Eddie Woodhouse said he couldn't support a voting site on campus because sites are needed in other fast-growing parts of the county, such as southern Wake.

The Wake elections board met for more than three hours Tuesday to decide on early voting sites and hours for the fall election and to hear feedback from the public.

All four members of the board can submit separate plans to the state board, which will likely take the issue up in August, and the plans can be different than what was proposed during Tuesday's meeting.

The tighter turnaround lessens the amount of time the county has to notify early voting locations and hire poll workers before the Nov. 6 election, said Wake County Elections Director Gary Sims.

The meeting was set to be an interesting one after the state legislature changed the rules for early voting to mandate all one-stop early voting sites be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. for the entire early voting period. The law's creators said it would make it easier for election officials and also for voters.

But some election directors across the state said that means there are fewer early voting sites that can be offered. During the Wake County primary earlier this year, for instance, the board of elections early voting site was open a full week longer than other early voting sites.

The local elections board had originally budgeted more than $800,000 to open some sites for the entire 17-day period with others open for only 10 days, something not allowed under the current law.

Flynn's proposal of nine early voting locations, including NCSU's campus, would cost an additional $224,000 in local money to keep those sites open for the full period.

In a meeting Monday, Wake County commissioners said they did not want money to be the reason early voting locations were not expanded or opened.

Several people, including current and former NCSU students, spoke Tuesday in favor of an early voting location on the campus while others asked the board to be prudent with taxpayer money. In all, more than 20 people spoke during the meeting with nearly 100 people submitting written comments to the board.

"Over 40,000 students, faculty, and staff attend and work at N.C. State, and many of our students will be first-time voters and eager to participate in the democratic process," said Mike Mullen, NCSU vice chancellor and dean. "In addition to having a significant population present on campus, we are also convenient to the residents of Wake County and we are committed to ensuring that an early voting location at N.C. State is accessible to all members of our community."

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