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County elections board seeks 4 more early voting hours

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By Jon Hawley
Staff Writer

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Pasquotank County is willing to offer four more hours of early voting in this fall’s election than state law requires, according to a vote Tuesday by the county's new, four-member board of elections.

In what members described as a “compromise,” the board's two Republicans and two Democrats agreed to offer a full Saturday of early voting on Nov. 3, the last day of early voting before election day, Nov. 6.

That's more than required, but fewer hours than requested by the Pasquotank branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The county NAACP earlier this month asked for two Saturdays and one Sunday of early voting, in addition voting during working hours.

The plan must still be approved by the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement. If approved, Pasquotank's early voting hours will be 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day it's offered. The early voting period covers all workdays from Oct. 17 through Nov. 3, with the only weekend voting occurring on Saturday, Nov. 3, when voting will also be from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Pasquotank NAACP President Keith Rivers didn't attend Tuesday's meeting, but his father, Raymond Rivers, spoke in favor of more voting hours, including on Sunday. Even extended voting hours during the work week may not be enough for people with long commutes, such as to shipyards in the Norfolk area, Rivers claimed. He also said that Sunday voting allows churches to more easily offer transportation to the polls for those who need it.

Others who favored more weekend voting, for similar reasons, included Alex Bartlett, Javelle Vann, Jackie Latson, Mike Harrell, and Pasquotank County Democratic Party Chairwoman Treva Gregory.

Other speakers, most Republicans, opposed the extra early voting as unnecessary, costly, and, in the case of Sunday, an intrusion on what they said was “the Lord's day.”

“I think it's God's day and it should stay that way,” Janice Terry told the board.

Myron Simmons expressed similar sentiments, adding that election workers need a day off during the busy voting period. He also argued Elizabeth City and Pasquotank County are too highly taxed, and should not bear the expense of excessive voting hours.

Betsy Meads, a Republican and former elections employee, said more early voting hours have not improved turnout since North Carolina implemented early voting in 2000 and 2002. North Carolina's turnout is no better than Virginia's, despite Virginia offering voting only on election day.

Meads also noted North Carolina doesn't require voters to have a special excuse for voting by absentee mail-in ballot, meaning any voter can vote by mail in lieu of in-person voting.

Carol Terryberry echoed Meads' arguments.

A new state law complicates counties' options for offering early voting, Pasquotank Elections Director Kelli Price and County Attorney Michael Cox advised the board Tuesday. Earlier this year, Republicans voted on legislation that required early voting sites be open identical hours throughout a county. The stated goal was to offer consistent, clear hours to voters.

That legislation also eliminated the final Saturday of voting, but a subsequent bill restored it.

Price then cited legal guidance from the state elections board that found requirements to offer early voting from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. only applied to early voting sites other than the elections office itself. That legal guidance also found that, if counties offered extended early voting on any days beyond what state law required, it would trigger requirements that the elections office be open for voting from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

In effect, in honoring the NAACP's request, Pasquotank would have had to commit to 12 hours of early voting on every day of early voting it offered, they said. The legislation that restored final Saturday voting states explicitly that voting may be extended from the minimum 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. to 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. without triggering the 12-hour requirement.

Based on turnout data, and the ease of requesting absentee-by-mail ballots, elections Chairman Lynn Childs and Secretary Bonnie Godfrey, both Republicans, opposed offering any expanded hours.

Democratic Vice Chairman Michele Aydlett joined them in opposing Sunday voting. However, she argued that offering four extra hours of voting on the final Saturday was a reasonable compromise. Democratic member Jacquelyn Brown agreed.

Price explained to the board that, if members could not unanimously agree on a plan, the state board would set the county's early voting hours.

That apparently prompted Godfrey and Childs to agree to Aydlett and Brown’s request.

Keith Rivers could be reached for comment Tuesday afternoon about the Pasquotank board's decision.

According to election officials, counties must submit proposed voting schedules to the State Board of Election by Friday.

Camden Elections Director Elaine Best reported Tuesday her board is proposing the minimum hours, workdays from Oct. 17 to Nov. 2 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturday, Nov. 3, from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.

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