Early vote to include final Saturday before election


By Jon Hawley
Staff Writer

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

There will be voting on the final Saturday of early voting after all, following lawmakers and Gov. Roy Cooper agreeing on restoring it.

There's also a request before the Pasquotank County Board of Elections to offer extended early voting hours this fall – including offering Sunday voting on Oct. 28, midway through the voting period.

Cooper's office announced Monday that he had signed House Bill 335, a bill that undoes a controversial provision of Senate Bill 325. S325 altered the early voting schedule, shifting the early period up by one day and eliminating the final Saturday of early voting. While S325's Republican proponents argued their legislation increased the minimum number of hours polls had to be open, including from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on workdays, critics argued the move inconvenienced or even disenfranchised voters who could most easily vote on the weekend.

In a reversal, senators last month gutted and amended H335 to restore the last Saturday. The measure passed the Senate unanimously and the House 99-2. Notably, Rep. Beverly Boswell, R-Dare, opposed the bill, according to the General Assembly's website, though Reps. Bob Steinburg, R-Chowan, and Howard Hunter III, D-Hertford, voted for it.

H335 still provides that early voting will start on the third Wednesday before the election, but will end on the last Saturday before the election. Saturday hours would be 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., though county boards of elections may extend hours as late as 5 p.m. It also allows hours on the final Saturday to vary from the hours set for other early voting stops. A key part of S325 was requiring uniform hours for early voting sites.

Anticipating Cooper would sign H335, the Pasquotank County branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People last week asked the Pasquotank Board of Elections to offer early voting every weekend of the voting period.

A letter from Pasquotank NAACP President Keith Rivers asks specifically for: Saturday voting on Oct. 20 from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Sunday voting on Oct. 28, from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.; and Saturday voting on Nov. 3 from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Rivers said Monday the Pasquotank board is still considering the request, but he said weekend voting is a great help to people who reside at the ends of the county or have lengthy commutes for work. Pasquotank only offers one early voting site, he noted, referring to early voting next door to the elections office on Parkview Drive.

“We should send a message we're going to encourage people to vote,” he said, adding election data show high turnout during weekend voting.

If the board approves Sunday voting, Rivers said it would be the first time in many years it allowed Sunday voting. Sunday voting would enable “souls to the polls” efforts and let churches encourage and help with voting, he noted.

Pasquotank Elections Director Kelli Price and Deputy Director Rebecca Creech said the board would decide on its voting plan during its July 17 meeting, which will be at noon. They will not make a recommendation one way or another on the NAACP's request, they said.

Price also said she had not calculated how much it would cost Pasquotank to offer the extra voting hours the NAACP requested.

Price also shared an analysis of S325 from the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement, who wrote that the law's requirements that polling sites be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. during workdays applied to early voting sites other than an elections office itself.

That means the law does not require Pasquotank to offer workday early voting for hours beyond 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., unless it opens additional sites.