Wake County

Wake extends early voting period; fate of elections remains unclear

Wake County voters will have seven extra days to vote early this fall – but they’ll have to do it at one location.

The Wake County Board of Elections late Monday held a phone meeting to respond to a recent court ruling that requires the county to enable early voting for 17 days. The county earlier this summer set an early voting schedule that included 20 voting sites and spanned 10 days: Thursday, Oct. 27, to Saturday, Nov. 5.

In a 2-1 vote, the board approved a simple solution. Wake will start early voting seven days earlier than originally expected but only at the Board of Elections office in downtown Raleigh.

The office, at 337 S. Salisbury St., is open from 8:30 a.m. to 5:15 p.m. weekdays. It’s now expected to also open from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 22, and from 1 to 5 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 23.

The move followed an attempt by the board’s newest member, Eddie Woodhouse, to reverse decisions the board made in June to hold early voting on Sundays and open an early-voting site at N.C. State University. Woodhouse motioned to eliminate both, but his effort failed.

Woodhouse is a Republican and former Raleigh City Council candidate who replaced former chairman Brian Ratledge, who recently resigned. The N.C. Board of Elections appointed Woodhouse during an emergency meeting late Sunday night in response to an order by U.S. District Court Judge James Dever III to fill the vacant seat.

Dever, for his part, issued the order after a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found that recently-redrawn election maps for the school board and county commissioners were unconstitutional.

The Republican-led legislature redrew the school board maps in 2013 and county commissioners maps in 2015. The panel ruled the maps violated equal representation, or “one person, one vote” principles in the U.S. Constitution, and gave unfair advantages to voters in suburban districts.

With the upcoming elections in doubt, Dever directed the Wake elections board to provide estimates of how long it would take to prepare for the November general election under four scenarios and gave the board until 8 p.m. Monday to respond.

Wake board members didn’t discuss any of the scenarios during their telephone conference Monday, and the public was unable to ask questions.

But a written response to Dever’s request shows the board sees the maps deemed unconstitutional as the easiest to implement, followed by election maps used in the 2013 school board and 2014 county commissioner elections.

Maps drawn by legislative leaders or state Rep. Rosa Gill would be harder to implement, the board wrote.

Anita Earls, executive director of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice who represents plaintiffs in the lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the voting districts, noted that the difference in executing the two plans is “negligible,” so the county should use the old maps.

The 2013 and 2014 maps do not include new, bigger at-large districts. Their exclusion would nullify campaign efforts for those districts, such as county commissioner candidates Vicki Scroggins-Johnson and John Adcock.

The timeline for a resolution is unclear.

Plaintiffs recently filed a petition to the Court of Appeals saying the defendants are taking too long to implement its mandate, Earls said. Wake’s board must report back to the Court of Appeals by 4 p.m. Wednesday, she said.

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