GOP LAW FORCES LESS
EARLY VOTING SITES
By Cash Michaels
Before the Republican-led legislature adjourned its summer short session last June, it was forced not to eliminate Saturday one-stop early voting in the upcoming November mid-term elections. Studies showed that early voting Saturdays were most popular with African-American voters to cast early ballots.
Stung with accusations of further trying to suppress the black vote, as federal courts had previously ruled in various redistricting and voting law decisions, GOP leadership backed off of eliminating Saturdays, giving supporters a sigh of relief.
But now, according to a study by the progressive online publication ProPublica, the law passed by the Republican majority in June, while saving early voting Saturdays,
effectively cut the number of early voting polling places statewide by mandating that all early voting sites in a county open weekdays from 7a.m. to 7 p.m., and if open on Saturdays, must also do so for the same amount of hours.
Republicans, like Rep. David Lewis [R-Harnett], tout the new legislative mandate as giving early voters more hours during the 17-day early voting period (Oct. 17th– Nov. 2) to cast their ballots.
“The purpose of the uniformity is to make it easier and more convenient and more accessible for the voter to participate,” said Rep. Lewis, a sponsor of the bill during the last session. “I think that access to the polls, access to the ballots in a uniform fashion, is more important than poll worker or election worker convenience.”
But according to the ProPublica study, and story published earlier this week, the new law, while indeed mandating more uniformed hours countywide for voters, effectively cuts the number of early voting polling sites by 20 percent, compared to 2014.
More voting hours, but less voting places.
Thus, according to the ProPublica story, counties that could normally open various sites on a staggered basis so that voters in different areas of the their county could make it to a polling place closer to them at a time reasonable for their schedules, instead now must travel farther to find and early voting site, and deal with longer lines because there are less open.
According to county election board officials who spoke with ProPublica, since counties, not the state, must fund how many polling sites they can afford to have during an election, they must now have fewer that are open longer because they can’t afford to have their normal number in operation.
So if a poorer North Carolina rural county in 2014 had five early voting sites in operation then, now, because of the new law passed in June, that rural county in 2018 can only afford to have three early voting sites open for the mandated 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. hours of operation, because it can neither afford to have all five open during those hours.
And to make things even more challenging, counties have to find volunteers willing to work 12-hour days during the early voting period, something that wasn’t necessary when counties previously had the luxury to staggering their polling place hours of operation.
The new law also presents yet another challenge – wasted hours of operation. According to the county election boards Propublica spoke with, very few people choose to early vote at 7 a.m. in the morning. County boards know from experience when they get their heaviest voter traffic, and traditionally staggered their hours to capture that traffic.
But now, with all early voting sites required to operate from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., there will be unused hours that still must be manned by volunteers, waiting for voters in their area to finally show up.
“In elections administration, we have what we consider ‘non-usable hours,’” Adam Ragan, the nonpartisan director of elections in Gaston County, told ProPublica. “There are some locations where people won’t come at 7 a.m. or 8 a.m. That’s why we’ve always opened our auxiliary sites at 10 a.m.”
That can’t happen now.
According to ProPublica, almost 50 percent of all North Carolina counties will closing early voting sites this year because they cannot afford to open them during the mandated new hours, resulting, again, in a loss of at least 20 percent across the state.
Observers suspect that such a loss of voting sites could effectively suppress the vote in many counties, especially smaller ones.
STATE NEWS BRIEFS FOR 09-27-18
SPECIAL HURRICANE FLORENCE SESSION FOR NC GENERAL ASSEMBLY ON OCT. 2ND
[RALEIGH] By mutual agreement with Gov. Roy Cooper, the NC Republican-led legislature will reconvene in yet another Special session on Tuesday, Oct. 2nd to deal with issues surrounding emergency relief assistance to areas devastated by Hurricane Florence. Cooper originally wanted the session to commence Oct. 9th, but Republican legislative leaders insisted that it be scheduled sooner than later. The plan is to convene on Oct. 2ndto address “policy issues” surrounding the hurricane, hen adjourn, and reconvene on Oct. 9th, giving the governor time to crunch the necessary numbers for a funding request from lawmakers.
Lawmakers say legislation is needed immediately to provide teachers in counties where the school systems have been closed due to the storm to still be paid. The school calendar in this counties will also have to be adjusted to allow for the days missed.
Other policy matters deal with delaying small business tax deadlines, and allowing storm victims to replace vehicle titles and other important paperwork that may have been lost in the devastation.
Rev. Dr. William Barber, co-chairman of the Poor People's Campaign: A National Call for Revival, Demanded Tuesday that Gov. Cooper and state lawmakers "...offer lasting assistance" to hurricane victims, by way of increasing access to health care, raising the state minimum wage, and increasing the education budget, among other social justice priorities.
I-40 AND I-95 HIGHWAYS ARE NOW FULLY REOPENED AFTER FLORENCE
[WILMINGTON] Many of the smaller roads in flooded areas impacted by Hurricane Floyd two weeks ago remain closed, but major highways I-40 and I-95 have now been cleared after they, too, were deemed impassable after massive flooding blocked their use. The floodwaters receded over the weekend, Gov. Roy Cooper reported Monday, faster than expected, clearing the ay for travel, though officials still warned that motorists be careful on still flooded side roads. According to state officials, at least 400 roads in the southeastern part of the state and coast were still deemed as hazardous as of Monday afternoon.
36 DEATHS CONFIRMED IN THE STATE DUE TO FLORENCE
[CRAVEN COUNTY] As of press time Wednesday, there were 36 confirmed deaths that were directly related to Hurricane Florence and it’s aftermath. Many of those deaths range from the very young, to the elderly. Three were children – a three-month-old in Gaston County; seven-month old in New Hanover County; and a one-year-old in Union County who was washed away from his mother a flood.