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Pasquotank, Currituck to request early voting site waivers

The election boards in both Pasquotank and Currituck counties plan to seek state permission to continue operating just a single polling place during one-stop early voting for the Nov. 3 general election.

The Pasquotank Board of Elections agreed Tuesday to seek a waiver from a new state rule requiring counties to have one early voting site for every 20,000 registered voters.

The Currituck Board of Elections plans to consider approving a similar waiver request when it meets next week.

The boards’ waiver requests follow state Board of Elections Executive Director Karen Brinson Bell’s emergency order Friday requiring an extra one-stop voting site for every 20,000 registered voters in a county. Bell ordered the extra one-stop sites to allow voters to have “every opportunity” to cast a ballot in person without unnecessary risk to their health because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Pasquotank currently operates one one-stop voting site. However, because it has around 28,000 registered voters, under Bell’s order it would have to operate two voting sites during the one-stop period that begins Thursday, Oct. 15 and ends on Saturday, Oct. 31.

Currituck, which also operates just one one-stop voting site, had 20,258 registered voters for the March 3 primary. Therefore, under Bell’s order, the county also would have to open a second one-stop voting site.

The Pasquotank Board of Elections, which now conducts one-stop voting in the Red Cross’ auditorium at the Edgewood Center, passed on the idea of opening a second one-stop voting site when asked to earlier this month.

Pasquotank NAACP President Keith Rivers asked the elections board during its July 13 meeting to add two additional early voting sites for the general election. While the board voted to extend early voting hours during the week and to hold one-stop voting on two Saturdays and one Sunday, Oct. 25, it declined to open an additional one-stop voting site.

While Bell’s order requires extra one-stop voting sites for counties with more registered voters, it does allow counties to seek a waiver from the order. To qualify, they have to present a voting plan that sufficiently serves its voting population and maintains social distancing while reducing the likelihood of long lines.

Pasquotank Board of Elections Director Emma Tate recommended the local board seek a waiver during Tuesday’s meeting, saying the county’s plan meets the state’s requirements to open just one early polling site.

Tate said safety and social distancing protocols are in the works for the elections office’s one-stop voting site in the Red Cross auditorium. The early voting site, Tate said, can accommodate around 25 voters at a time who are practicing safe social distancing.

In the last presidential election in 2016, 11,369 Pasquotank voters cast ballots during one-stop voting compared to around 6,000 who voted on election day.

Tate also said her office has also seen a “spike” in requests for mail-in absentee ballots. The General Assembly recently passed legislation that makes it easier to vote by mail and Pasquotank has already received over 200 requests for mail ballots. A little fewer than 500 people voted by mail in 2016.

“That means there will be even fewer voters at one-stop,” Tate said.

The county will use federal coronavirus relief funding to install physical barriers between poll workers and voters as well as provide personal protection equipment, including masks and face shields, for poll workers.

Poll workers will be required to wear a mask while voters will be encouraged, but not required, to wear a face covering. Tate said only one poll worker has said they will not work the polls because of the mask mandate.

“Anything that will require less than 6 feet distance between the voter and a precinct official, there will be a physical barrier with a slot underneath it,” Tate said. “Of course, there will be markers on the floor (for social distancing).”

Poll workers will also utilize one-use pens, and voting machines will be sanitized after every vote is cast.

“There will be designated cleaners on every (poll worker’s) shift,” Tate said.

Those protocols convince her that “our one one-stop (site) is sufficient enough” to accommodate voters in the Nov. 3 election, she said.

Bell’s emergency order last week also requires counties to have a backup one-stop voting site in case a polling location has to be closed because of COVID. It also requires voting sites to be open for 10 hours on the first two weekends of early voting.

For its backup location, Pasquotank is looking at either the former DayBreak Adult Day Care facility several doors down from the elections office or a site at Elizabeth City State University. The county owns the space where DayBreak operated until it announced it would not reopen after closing because of the pandemic.

“We want to keep it close (to the elections office),” Tate said.

To meet the weekend time requirement, one-stop voting will take place in Pasquotank from 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. on Saturday Oct. 17, from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 24, and from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 25.

Weekday early voting in Pasquotank will be from 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.

Compared to 2016, Pasquotank will offer an extra 65 hours of early voting time.

In Currituck Board of Elections Director Sydni Banks said the county elections board will more than likely vote to request a waiver since “we barely meet” the 20,000-requirement to have a second early voting location.

Currituck held one-stop voting on a Sunday during early voting for the March 3 primary but the elections board voted against holding early voting on a Sunday for the general election. Instead, early voting will be held on three Saturdays.

To meet the 10-hour weekend requirement, Banks expects the Currituck elections board to schedule Saturday voting from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Oct. 17 and Oct. 24.

Schultz: No place in Coast Guard for Confederate flag

Though the Confederate battle flag may hold special meaning to some members, it is divisive and has no place in the U.S. Coast Guard, says the service’s top admiral.

“While the Confederate battle flag may be symbolic of different beliefs, it divides Americans and threatens our Black shipmates,” said Adm. Karl Schultz, commandant of the Coast Guard, in a memo issued Friday.

As of last Friday, the display or depiction of the Confederate battle flag is no longer allowed on Coast Guard installations, to include barracks and outside Coast Guard family housing where the flag is easily visible.

“In our military environment, such division clearly endangers loyalty, discipline and morale; undermines unit cohesion and mission effectiveness and marginalizes segments of our workforce,” Schultz said.

The commandant’s policy also prohibits vehicle bumper stickers of the flag and clothing items bearing images of the flag. The policy does not include displaying the flag within the confines of private housing.

The memo describes the Confederate battle flag as having “a red or blue field with two blue or red diagonal lines and white stars.”

Last year the Coast Guard updated its policy to define the display of symbols of “hatred and oppression,” to include the Confederate flag, as potential hate-related incidents, according to the memo.

The revision also directed unit commanders to investigate displays and authorized them to remove divisive symbols, even if the symbols did not involve a hate-related incident.

“There is no benefit from a display of divisive symbols in our disaggregated and geographically widely dispersed workforce, and I have determined that the Confederate battle flag is uniquely divisive,” Schultz said.

On the same day Adm. Schultz issued his directive, the U.S. Department of Defense announced a similar policy that bans the Confederate flag on all military installations. The DoD policy does not apply to the Coast Guard, as the Coast Guard falls under the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

The difference between the two policies, is Adm. Schultz explicitly identifies the Confederate battle flag as prohibited. Meanwhile, the two-page DoD memo signed by Defense Secretary Mike Esper provides a list of allowable flags. The Confederate battle flag is not listed among those allowed.

Camp in the age of COVID: Port Discover hosts camp outdoors

Children’s summer day camps have returned to Port Discover in downtown Elizabeth City.

This week, the children’s hands-on science learning center hosted its first kids camp since March, when the center closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Duffy Danish, the center’s director, said the camp’s first day was Monday and will continue weekdays through Friday, July 31. Class size is limited to eight children, so each day the camp hosts a new group of children.

Camp hours are from 9 a.m. to noon outside on the sidewalk in front of Port Discover on Main Street.

Because of COVID-19 restrictions, the camp must be held outdoors and while the children are gathered for activities they must wear face masks.

As part of the schedule, Danish takes the children for a walk around downtown to complete additional activities. When they are walking, the kids don’t have to keep their masks on, she explained.

The daily camp activities focus around a theme. For example, nature was the theme Tuesday. For activities the children learned about insects and made sculptures of insects using sticks, rocks and other items they found in nature. They also painted small rocks and during their walk hid them in spots for other painted rock collectors to discover.

Danish said a few weeks ago she learned she could use the outside front step of Port Discover to hold day camps. She spent about two weeks preparing and marketing the camps to the community. She has ideas for other upcoming activities, pending COVID-19 restrictions.

One event idea she said she is considering is “Mommy and Me” camps, which include the child’s mother or parents in the camp.

Next month, Port Discover is hosting the Dog Days Virtual 5K Run/Walk fundraiser. Participants will have from Aug. 8 to Aug. 15 to complete their run or walk and will receive an event T-shirt after the event.

Registration is $30 and can be completed online at runsignup.com/Race/NC/Anytown/PortDiscoverDogDaysVirtual5KVirtualRunWalk. There is a link to the registration page at Port Discover’s Facebook page at /portdiscoverNC. Facebook also is a good source for upcoming Port Discover activities and events.

For more information about how to register a child for camp or to learn more about potential upcoming events, email Danish at portdiscoverdirector@gmail.com.

ECDI proposing adding bike racks downtown

Artistic bike racks may be coming to downtown Elizabeth City.

If it happens, it will be the first time that bike racks have been placed downtown.

The Elizabeth City Downtown, Inc. board voted last week to spend $500 on a prototype custom-made artistically-painted bike rack.

ECDI hopes to eventually place 20 of the bike racks around the downtown area but funding to pay the project’s anticipated $20,000 price tag is a big question mark.

ECDI Director Deborah Malenfant said she hopes to secure grant funding for the project and wants to have a plan in place, including the prototype, in order to take advantage of grant opportunities. Malenfant hopes that grant opportunity will present itself by the end of the year.

“We are trying to have concepts ready for grant opportunities,” Malenfant said. “We don’t want to see a grant opportunity and then throw things together. We will be actively seeking grant opportunities and other dollars to implement this project.’’

There are currently no bike racks downtown, artistically decorated or not. With the newly opened Weatherly Lofts apartments on Water Street at full capacity, Malenfant said almost 400 people now live downtown.

“As more people live and work downtown and visit downtown businesses and restaurants, the need for public bike parking becomes evident,” Malenfant said. “Having parking available for bikes encourages people to ride to downtown and within downtown instead of driving.”

Malenfant also said the bike racks will encourage college students to visit downtown on two wheels. Having bike parking could also free up public vehicle parking.

“With two universities in close proximity, it will help bridge the town and gown gap and bring more students and faculty into downtown,” she said.

Malenfant said the racks will be built by local metalworks artists and then painted by different artists, who also will be from the local area.

“Marrying the concepts of public art and bike racks is a creative way to increase public art and add bike parking,” Malenfant said.

The racks will not be the traditional street mounted racks but will instead be mounted to utility poles.

“Our downtown community is historic and large with sidewalks of various widths and sizes,” Malenfant explained. “The specific design of the bike racks allows for efficient placement in as many locations as possible and does not hinder pedestrian walkways like larger, group bike racks do.”

The bike rack project can be done in phases based on funding, Malenfant said.

“This can be scaled up or scaled down very easily,” she said.

The Americans with Disabilities Act states that there must be ample room around bike racks to allow for pedestrian traffic flow. City Manager Rich Olson said getting the bike rack project in compliance with the ADA shouldn’t be a problem.

“We are willing to work with ECDI on the locations as long as we can meet all the ADA requirements,” Olson said. “I’ve seen some of these at conferences and there is some really great stuff out there that you can do.’’