State Politics

Early voting sites limited ahead of June 7 primary

At right, a voter waves her completed ballot to a poll worker as she moves toward the vote counting machine at the White Rock Baptist Church precinct on Fayetteville Road, Durham, NC Tuesday, March 15, 2016.
At right, a voter waves her completed ballot to a poll worker as she moves toward the vote counting machine at the White Rock Baptist Church precinct on Fayetteville Road, Durham, NC Tuesday, March 15, 2016. hlynch@newsobserver.com

Early voting for the June 7 congressional and N.C. Supreme Court primary starts Thursday, but voters won’t have many sites to choose from.

While Wake County offered nine early voting locations ahead of the March 15 primary, just three sites will be available in the days leading to June 7. Two of them won’t open until next Wednesday.

Durham County is providing just one early voting site – the Board of Elections office downtown – and Orange County will open two sites.

Because the primary is unusual – it was prompted by a federal court’s order to redraw congressional districts – the State Board of Elections dropped its usual requirements for the number of early voting hours counties must provide.

Those rules “would have required that counties provide at least as many early voting hours as they did in the 2010 primary,” according to Josh Lawson, general counsel for the board. He said the board voted to suspend that requirement “due to the unanticipated and unbudgeted nature of that election.”

The limited number of sites doesn’t sit well with Suzanne Stanton of Cary. There are no early voting sites in Cary and western Wake County, so she’ll have to drive to Fuquay-Varina or downtown Raleigh to vote early.

“This is ludicrous,” she said. “Downtown Raleigh is not the appropriate place to go. It’s not going to accommodate that many people even if they can find parking.”

Wake County elections director Gary Sims said that reserving early voting sites on short notice – the June 7 date wasn’t set until February – proved a challenge.

“A lot of these sites already had prior commitments,” he said. “Some were preparing for after-school and summer programs. They didn’t want to uproot school children and programs.”

Funding for the unexpected election was also problematic. Wake County leaders had budgeted for a second primary, but after lawmakers decided to hold all primaries on March 15, some of the election funding was released to the county’s general fund. That meant the Board of Elections had to ask for additional money for June 7.

“Our funding was more working with the county to make sure we’re making the best use of the money that we had,” Sims said. “If we’re going to have a very low turnout election, having so many early voting sites, is that the best use of funds?”

By contrast, Mecklenburg County is offering 17 early voting sites for the primary. And while the county has a similarly large population, Sims said its approach to elections is hard to compare with Wake.

“They have really tiny sites – libraries and small rooms,” he said. “We have a tendency to try to vote in gymnasiums.”

The Wake Forest and Fuquay-Varina sites won’t open until June 1 because early voting turnout is generally highest during the final days of the period, Sims said.

“Even if I had 100 early voting sites, everyone historically comes the last two days,” he said.

Colin Campbell: 919-829-4698, @RaleighReporter

 VOTER INFORMATION
 

Early voting sites

Wake County: 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays through June 3 (except Memorial Day) and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. June 4 at the Board of Elections office, 337 S. Salisbury St.; 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. June 1-3 and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. June 4 at the Northern Regional Center in Wake Forest (350 E. Holding Ave.) and the Falcon Park Hut in Fuquay-Varina (105 Falcon Drive).

Durham County: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays through June 3 (except Memorial Day) and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. June 4 at the Board of Elections office, 201 N. Roxboro St.

Orange County: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays through June 3 (except Memorial Day) and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. June 4 at the Board of Elections office, 208 S. Cameron St. in Hillsborough; and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays through June 3 (except Memorial Day) and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. June 4 at the Chapel Hill Seymour Center, 2551 Homestead Road.

Chatham County: 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays through June 3 (except Memorial Day), 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. May 28, and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. June 4 at the Board of Elections office, 984 Thompson St. in Pittsboro.

Johnston County: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays through June 3 (except Memorial Day) and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. June 4 at the Board of Elections office, 205 S. Second St. in Smithfield.

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