Early Vote Plans

You may want to wait till it's late at night and you can't sleep to read this one. Although it does supply some insight into the people of North Carolina!

As a Democrat, I can’t say enough good things about Josh Malcolm, one of the two Dem reps on the State Board Of Elections.(SBOE)

He led the discussion for the large majority of this marathon meeting. He is the workhorse on this board, always conversant on details, numbers, percentages. The level of preparation he went to for this meeting was obvious in his thoughtful questions, the times he pushed for answers, his careful consideration of the feelings of participants, and his dogged pursuit of answers that would meet both the letter and the spirit of the Fourth Circuit ruling on NC’s voter ID law. At the beginning of the SBOE meeting he announced he would not vote to approve any plan that reduced early vote hours to less than were available in 2012 (absent a drop in population or exigent circumstances.).

Time and again, he would recognize the passion felt by a local board member but respond with a gentle reminder that his board had to meet the letter of the law even if some did not care for it. Time and again, he would ask, are we all agreed on the facts here? When there were GOP claims that 17 days in a row of work was too much for the working staff at local BOEs, he pointed out there was nothing in the statute that required all employees to be present all days, and they could alternate.

He was well supported by Dr. Maja Kricker, the NCBOE’s second Dem member. Dr. Kricker put forth thoughtful suggestions, questions and motions.

The GOP members of the SBOE are Rhonda Amorosa, from New Hanover County and the board secretary; Judge James Baker, appointed more recently, and new chair, A. Grant Whitney, jr. from Charlotte.

Being present when votes were cast, where one can take the measure of tone of voice and the aspect of faces made it blatantly clear when votes were cast for partisan reasons. And the Republican majority on this board clearly chose to act more often for their party rather than for the good of all.

In our state we have had local Boards of Elections (BOE) act more like middle school students than adults. In Cumberland county, each of the 3 members put forward a plan. None got a second on their motion, not even the chair, who subsequently adjourned that meeting and never called for another gathering to resolve the issue.

The chair from the Pitt County BOE is very schedule oriented, and wants all sites to have exactly the same hours of operation every single day. In fact, he said that he wants all hours to be the same, and having Sunday vote screws all that up! (Having watched a local board struggle to find appropriate sites in rural areas I have learned that this is just not a reasonable requirement. In fact, in rural parts of our state one can drive miles and miles without even seeing a building at all, and those buildings that might be available don’t meet the needs of an early vote site. The demand for the same hours of operation can then be used to take away sites in minority neighborhoods.)

Kathy Knight, Chair of the Orange County BOE, said she introduced a plan she hoped would please everybody, but discovered you can’t really make everyone happy. Orange ended up with more hours but no Sunday vote.

The SBOE's three Republican members did a good job of trying to support the Dallas Woodhouse email instructions for all local GOP BOE board members. At some times, they resorted to grasping at straws in suggestions that would support the decisions of GOP board members at the local level, such as Rhonda Amarosa’s assertion that when she drove through the ASU campus in Watauga County she couldn’t find the student union. (It was later pointed out that 6,000 voters had no problem finding it during the recent March primary.)

Judge Baker, a GOP member of the State BOE, really stretched to reach the conclusion that the letter from ASU’s legal council did not actually use the words, NO YOU CAN”T USE THE LEGENDS LOCATION, and created a convoluted motion that will require the Chancellor of ASU to send the State BOE a written consent to use the Legends location, and if that written consent is not received within 5 days, the site will revert to the student union. Dr. Kricker pointed out that this issue has come before the State BOE repeatedly and that the board has TWICE ruled that the student union was a better choice, so WHY does this issue keep coming back to the State BOE!! No one on the State BOE understands why that happens, either, feeling the most appropriate site has been found. (Four Eggers seems to hate young people who vote) Even Ms. Amarosa wants to see this conflict settled once and for all.

At times, all State BOE members expressed their disappointment that the Directors of Local BOEs, the employee who manages the county office, were not being assertive enough in guiding their appointed, partisan board members. They are the boots-on-the-ground, so to speak, who have the experience to advise which sites have worked well in the past, or not. Most local Directors who attended this State BOE meeting declared they were only there to answer questions and would not take a side. One can’t blame them for saying they just wanted to do their job as directed by their board. With local board members appointed by their local party associations, and having connections with the county commissioners who can direct hiring and firing of said directors, keeping one’s mouth shut is the best way to keep one’s job. Our state needs to do something about this, to make the voting system more responsive to citizen need than party need. It is every bit as bad as gerrymandering. And yes, I am of the understanding that it was Dems who set it up that way. But it has to change. Fairness is the American way, and we need it now more than ever.

Mecklenburg was a mess. Over half of Mecklenburg’s voters used early vote in the past. Since then, the population has grown. But the majority plan cut sites and available hours. One woman rattled on about how the majority plan would ‘prevent voters being used by the parties.’ Jerry Williamson, from Watauga, and I were siting next to each other at this point in time, and at this statement, we each exclaimed out loud, WHAT! She claimed to ‘have been told’ that partisan hacks were dragging elderly, demented persons, or the mentally disabled, who could not state their name or address into polling booths--she called it, ‘victimization of the elderly.’ (She implied both parties were guilty of this.) No such incidents had been officially reported. It was Josh Malcolm who got her to confess she had not seen this herself but had heard about it.

The plan put forward for Mecklenburg would have cut the 170 hours granted for the first 3 days of early vote in 2012 (which featured lines of people waiting to get in and vote), down to 69 hours. The 22 sites offered in 2012 were to be reduced by more than half. No rational was offered and even Judge Baker of the SBOE had an issue with this. Someone called it a train wreck. But the SBOE Chair, who resides in Charlotte, set the partisan tone, by suggesting that since the work on the 485 roadway was complete there should be no problem in people being able to drive around and get to polling sites. (no mention of those people who have to rely on buses or friends for transportation.) Dr. Kricker insisted that, given population growth, the SBOE could not approve fewer hours than had been granted in 2012. All on the SBOE agreed that the offered plan would not function. But the partisan, 3-2 vote approved for Mecklenburg called for 10 voting sites in the first 3 days of early vote (again, there were 22 sites in 2012) and the last Saturday of early vote they would stay open until 6pm. Mr. Malcolm objected, declaring this plan could become the poster child for how NOT to do early vote.

When Franklin County came up, Professor Joyner was recognized by Josh Malcolm as one of his law school professors. Professor Joyner replied, Thank you for the recognition, but this is not the time to get even! The visitors present erupted in laughter. Professor Joyner was there to speak for the minority (Dem) plan, but the SBOE, in a partisan vote, approved the majority plan, which had removed sites from predominantly African American areas of the county.

The proposed Wake county plan was also referred to as a train wreck. This plan would have put NC on the national news. Wake has the state’s highest number of registered voters, with more this November than the last presidential election. Wake depended upon early vote hours to keep them off the post-election news casts. 71% of African Americans in Wake used early vote in 2012. And the majority (GOP) plan has ALL EARLY VOTE TAKING PLACE AT THE BOE OFFICE IN DOWNTOWN RALEIGH, for the first week of early vote. (It could have been this was for the entire period of early vote) It was pointed out that just allowing for population growth, and 2 minutes per voter would require an additional 8600 additional voting hours over the last election.

Dr. Kricker asked the Wake County Director (who runs the office) how their office location could handle 10,000 voters a day, and he agreed it absolutely could not work. Again, when asked, the Director said he was not asked to provide input to the local board when they made this decision.

The minority (Dem) plan put forth by Mark Ezzel had more early vote sites, and that was the only difference between the minority and majority plans. Mark’s plan passed by a 3-2 vote. I couldn’t tell which Republican SBOE member voted with the 2 Dems, but the SBOE chair voted against accepting it. Evidently he wants Wake to be the poster child for bad election arrangements.

New Hanover was the only county that did a cost analysis, detailing how much it cost the board to keep a site open based on number of voters per hour. (What price, liberty?)
One site cost the board over $6 a voter between 6-7 pm, but only 98 cents a voter between 11-noon. The response to that was, We can’t put a price on democracy. Evidently, the best cost per hour was on Sundays!! The majority plan (GOP) called for ‘bankers’ hours’ at early vote sites; the minority plan (DEM) had expanded hours. The SBOE approved the majority plan on a partisan vote, adding only 1 extra hour to voting on the last Thursday and Friday of early vote.

Edgecombe County. This was the only county that CUT the number of voting sites AFTER the 4th circuit court ruling. The minority member of the local board questioned, If they approved 6 voting sites BEFORE the ruling, why can’t we have 6 sites AFTER the ruling?? She is a former county commissioner and knows there are funds available to support this. She would be willing to cut the number of hours if can keep the 6 sites. And this becomes the adopted plan.

At the Bladen county BOE meeting, members of the public were not allowed to speak. The Dem member of that board said he was presented a plan for his signature, and not allowed time to look it over. He asked for public input, but was flatly denied. Bladen is a rural county and most workers commute out of county to work. They don’t get back before the early vote sites close. SBOE added an evening hour to the early vote schedule and approved it 5-0.

In Pamlico county, the Director of the local board was not allowed to speak at the board meeting until members of the public asked for her opinion. The SBOE, by 4-1, approved the minority (DEM) plan for Pamlico, as many commute out of county for work. Pamlico has the smallest number of registered voters in the state, at 9400.

Duplin County. There was a lack of understanding here that the county was required to have a certain number of hours of early vote. They have made this year 10 hours less than the last election. One local BOE member says the county commissioners give them the maximal number of hours they are willing to pay staff to work at early vote. Another points out more hours are needed because once farmers get out on their combine, they don’t want to get off to go vote. All the SBOE members tried to help this board come to a compromise, and they agreed on 8-5 for the first week of early vote, and 7-7 for the second.

Martin County.
William Newsome, a concerned citizen came to the board asking for additional early vote sites. They had 3 sites in 2008, and 45% of Martin County voted early, under the state average-- It is felt an additional site would bring that up. This a poor county with a lack of transportation.
It can be a 25 mile drive to get to the 1 early vote site. The public asked for more. They had extra site in 2008 but not 2012....
It looked as if a compromise was in the works, but the Judge moved to adopt the majority plan and it passed, 3 to 2, on partisan lines again.

Montgomery county. Even though the majority plan put voting sites outside the areas where population is concentrated, it was approved, 5-0.

Richmond County. The Dem member of the local BOE says the Sunday vote time had the highest voting rate, per hour, in the state, and was arbitrarily eliminated for this year. He says there is no reason for this other than the other 2 members of his board are Southern Baptist preachers and think God didn’t want you voting on Sunday--but, of course, he adds, God doesn’t want that restaurant down the street open for business on Sunday, either, but those preachers have no trouble going there for lunch.
The SBOE adds 3 hours of voting on one Sunday and approve it 4-1.

Hoke County had Sunday hours in the past, when they had the 4th highest Sunday turnout in the state, but none planned for this year. Souls to the Polls was a big deal in Hoke county, and nearby Ft Bragg helped add to this. County Commissioners had already put money in their budget for Sunday vote. The local BOE chair replied that he had once served in the military police and that active duty members of the service are allowed to request the opportunity to go and vote during duty hours, so they don’t need a Saturday or a Sunday opportunity to vote. The local BOE DEM member replies that when Sunday voting was brought up at their board meeting, the chair did not want to talk about it, but she was not aware of the 2nd meeting the chair had mentioned--she knew nothing about that, but was aware that conversations had taken place that she had not been privy to. Given that the county had used Sunday voting hours in previous elections, and the SBOE has to meet the demands of the 4th circuit ruling, it is moved to add 4 voting hours on one Sunday, and approved unanimously.

In Randolph County, the total number of precincts has been reduced from 40 to 22.
The majority (GOP) plan for 2016 offered Saturday hours, consistent hours of availability at all sites, but no Sunday hours.
Before the 4th circuit ruling, the NAACP and over 30 churches, black and white, asked for Sunday hours, and the local BOE had approved one Sunday of voting. After the 4th circuit ruling, they removed the Sunday of voting. Huh? says everyone in the room. The local chair is asked, umm, Why? Why did you vote for it at first, and not later?
The local BOE Chair replies he first supported Sunday voting because the people he spoke to at that time supported it. But when word got out he had done so, he became a villain --was called a traitor by the republican party--and decided he should support the will of the majority of the citizens... He admits that those who told him not to allow Sunday voting were Republicans. Yes. That's what he said. At this point, he was looking nervous
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The only difference in the 2 plans offered is 4 hours of voting on 1 Sunday. There is a Motion to recommend minority (DEM) plan.
Judge Parker (SBOE) says if the county has never had Sunday voting before, is giving Sunday voting to that county yielding to that 1 party? He sees a great need for a day off..... so does Ms. Amarosa! She says, you can vote by mail!! (There was only ONE day to vote when I was a kid!!)
Minority plan fails to pass. Majority plan under consideration.... Kricker points out that some people saying we don't want additional voting access is not a reason to limit hours. Majority plan passes. GOP gets its way in Randolph county.

In Harnett County, the local BOE chair does not support Sunday voting and won’t unless the SBOE forces him to do so. They have added sites and extended hours and that is enough! The Director, who runs the Elections office, says she wanted to avoid pointing out any one particular group, so she had not pointed out to the board that 64% of early voters were African American--diversity of the vote was not discussed, only total numbers of voters. Mr. Malcolm asks, isn’t your board directed by law to look at diversity stats??? The Director replies, if so, she was not aware of it. Evidently, the law requires the State BOE to consider race in voting plans, but does not level the same requirement on the local BOEs. (that is what was said) The majority (GOP) plan is approved by the SBOE.

Craven county did have Sunday voting at an earlier election. This year, they added more weekday sites, but no Sunday sites. They sited costs as the reason, even though they had 95 voters per hour on their most recent Sunday vote stats. Based on the 4th circuit decision, the Dem BOE member asked for Sunday voting time. Judge Parker tried to make it out that having 95 voters per hour at a Sunday site that was only open for 4 hours is not strong enough evidence to include it again..... The crowd murmured with disapproval at this suggestion. The local minority (DEM) member points out they have a lot of factory operations in Craven, and they run 24/7. They need more days and hours.
A motion is made to adopt the majority plan (GOP) but delete 1 Saturday and add 2 Sundays. Before it can be voted on, Judge Parker casually announces that if this motion fails, he will be offering a motion that has only 1 Sunday of voting..... The implications are clear. He is telling the SBOE GOP members that there will be an option and they can vote against the first motion. (My understanding of Robert’s rules does not allow 2 motions to be on the floor at one time, and that basically is what this amounted to.) The first motion fails. Even though Malcolm points out that this second motion is a disservice to Craven county, it passes on party lines.

Rockingham county’s local BOE chair is adamently against Sunday voting hours, saying it amounts to government by whim. And, he says, they want ALL sites to have exactly the same hours. There was strong public support for Sunday voting. But the SBOE approves the majority, GOP, plan.

The group from Lenoir managed to come up with their own compromise, without violating open meeting rules, and it was approved by SBOE. Details get lost as the local people are so familiar with it they toss around short names for longer plans that the audience doesn’t get just because they don’t live there.

There was one local BOE chair who was adamantly against Sunday voting hours, claiming it was a Democratic party ploy to garner more votes in the presidential years but they didn't want it during the non-presidential years. He hated Dems for doing this. I never thought of it that way. From everything I have seen, Democrats want Sunday early vote at all elections, but because non-presidential years have such a light turnout, agree to set it aside for counties to save the cost of having it available for so few voters. Perhaps if we did have Sunday early vote during those years it would serve to increase voter turnout, who knows?!

It was a long day for all. With a little work I believe we can make these two important parts of American democracy work better.

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