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Currituck campaigners to face new restrictions

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Supporters of candidates in the May 8 primary campaign on the south side of the Currituck County Board of Elections office during one-stop voting. Campaign supporters in Currituck will now face stricter rules outside the elections office.

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By William F. West
Staff Writer

Thursday, October 18, 2018

CURRITUCK — The days of passing out cooked food to voters outside the polling station at the Currituck Board of Elections Office are apparently over.

A ban on cooking or preparing food on county property during one-stop voting was one of the new restrictions green-lighted by the Currituck Board of Commissioners Monday night. Commissioners agreed to amend the county ordinance to include the rules first adopted by the county Board of Elections last month.

The rules are in response to behavior by campaign workers for political candidates during one-stop voting for the May 8 primary that the chairman of the Currituck commission board described Monday as “out of control.”

Besides the ban on cooking and preparing food, campaign workers and candidates are barred from approaching one-stop voters within a 50-foot area of the elections office entrance. The area will be clearly marked as a no-campaigning buffer zone, according to the rules.

Political signs are still allowed on the south side of the elections office. However, each candidate is limited to two yard signs and a hand-held sign. Under the new rules, each sign can be no larger than 18 inches by 24 inches.

The new rules also prohibit anyone from posting campaign signs on county property prior to an hour before one-stop voting starts. Any signs posted also have to be removed at the end of each day of one-stop voting.

County Attorney Ike McRee told commissioners Monday the county’s four-member elections board approved the new rules Sept. 11 in response to increased campaigning outside the elections office the last couple of election cycles. He said the rules are designed to provide voters reasonable access to the elections office.

Board of Commissioners Chairman Bobby Hanig, who is running for an open state House seat in the Nov. 6 election, said he believes the new rules are designed to provide more order than what he observed outside the election office during one-stop voting for the May 8 primary.

“There were 40 signs lined up from the front to the side,” he said. “Some people would have 10 (signs) of the same candidate or 15 of the same candidate. It was just out of control.”

Commissioner Mike Payment asked why the campaign signs have to be removed and put back up every day of one-stop voting.

McRee said temporary signs aren’t supposed to be posted on county property, but he said political signs have been allowed during the early voting period in the past.

Commissioner Mike Hall expressed concern about limiting candidates’ ability to campaign with larger signs, noting some have yard signs measuring 24 inches by 24 inches.

Hall also questioned eliminating campaigning from the north side of the elections office. He noted that in the past, supporters of Democratic candidates would be staged on one side of the elections office entrance and supporters of Republican candidates would be staged on the other. He expressed concern about being able to keep supporters of the two parties apart if they can’t get along.

“And that has happened,” he said.

Commissioner Paul Beaumont asked what will happen when the first group of campaigners arrives with two signs each for its preferred candidates.

“The reality is you’re going to run out of road frontage real fast on just the south side,” Beaumont said.

Beaumont said he favors limiting candidates to one sign on the south side of the elections office and one sign on the north side.

“That way, everyone can get a shot at having prime time,” he said.

Commissioner Bob White agreed.

Commissioner Kitty Etheridge, a former elections director for Currituck, said commissioners’ concerns could be incorporated in future tweaks of the new rules. She led a vote to adopt the amendment changes that passed by a 6-1 vote. Hall cast the lone “no” vote.

Because commissioners were voting on the first reading of an ordinance change, McRee reminded them that a unanimous vote was needed for its immediate passage. If the vote remained 6-1, commissioners would have to vote on the amendment again at their next meeting, where only a simple majority would be needed for passage.

Hall said he would withdraw his concerns about the new rules for now, as long as there was some consideration given to restoring two separate areas for campaigning outside the elections office — for “some cooling down, if need be,” he said.

County Manager Dan Scanlon pointed out that what commissioners were asked to do Monday is sign off on the new rules the county elections board adopted.

“So, the pieces that you’re discussing are really not in the ordinance,” Scanlon said. “Those are conditions that the board of elections has decided that they felt was appropriate to bring some order” during one-stop voting.

Scanlon said commissioners should take their concerns to the elections board and ask them to make modifications.

After Hall said commissioners could reach agreement, the board voted unanimously to reconsider its 6-1 vote. Commissioners then voted unanimously to recognize the election board’s new rules.

Etheridge said she planned to speak to the elections board about making tweaks to the rules.

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