The State Board of Elections on Sunday decided unanimously to keep Sunday hours in Durham’s early voting schedule, rejecting the local election board chairman’s proposal to eliminate Sunday voting.
The approved plan, which Durham elections board members Philip Lehman, a Democrat, and Michael Gray, a Republican, endorsed, has six voting sites and offers hours every Saturday and Sunday during the early voting period. Lehman said it is the same early voting plan used in this year’s primary.
Durham’s Republican board Chairman Luke Farley wanted seven early voting sites but no Sunday hours.
Sunday voting is controversial, or as Republican state board member Ken Raymond called it, “a hotly contested issue.” Republicans tend to oppose it.
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“We at least need one day of break when we’re giving adequate number of hours for early voting,” Republican state board member John Lewis said, commenting on another county’s plans.
Black churches routinely conduct “Souls to the Polls” events on Sundays, with churchgoers traveling to voting sites together after services.
The State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement decides on county early voting hours when local boards cannot come to unanimous agreements. The state board is free to select one of the options the county board discussed or to come up with its own plan.
The state board also voted Sunday to establish early voting hours for the first time in Orange County, and to adopt an early voting plan proposed by Democrats in Wake County that includes a location on N.C. State’s campus.
Durham has a history of offering Sunday voting. Lehman said Durhamites have been voting on Sunday since 2008.
“There was no compelling argument advanced for why Sunday voting should be eliminated in Durham,” Lehman said.
Farley did not attend the meeting to argue for his proposal.
Gray, the other Republican member of Durham’s elections board, said that as a former poll worker he saw many African-American voters using Sunday hours.
“Voting should be as open and accessible as possible,” he said.
Republicans on the state board who opposed Sunday hours for other counties appeared to be swayed by Durham’s history of Sunday voting and because the same voting options used for the primary, which had been approved unanimously in by the local board, were being replicated for fall.
This year’s early voting period starts Wednesday, Oct. 17, and ends Saturday, Nov. 3.
The legislature has thrown a new wrinkle into early voting schedules. Under a new law, all county early voting locations must be open from 7 a.m to 7 p.m on Mondays through Fridays. If voting sites are open on weekends, they must all keep the same hours.
During early voting, people can register to vote and vote on the same day.
The early voting sites in Durham will be:
- Durham County Board of Elections at 201 N. Roxboro St.
- The South Regional Library at 4505 S. Alston Ave.
- The East Regional Library at 211 Lick Creek Lane
- The North Regional Library at 221 Milton Road
- NC Central University at the Turner Law Building
- Duke University at the Brodhead Center