Registrar convinces elections board to broaden early voting

By on August 18, 2016

Sandy Semans speaks for earlier voting hours. (Russ Lay)

Dare County will further expand the schedule for early voting after Registrar Michele Barnes persuaded the Board of Elections to reconvene and make the change.

Last Friday, the board decided to keep the Manteo registrar’s office open a little longer — until 6 p.m. — to accommodate working citizens during the week.

But none of the sites would open before 11 a.m.

Then, this week the board met in a conference call and moved the opening time back to 8:30 a.m.

“On my recommendation, the Dare County Board of Elections, via conference call, unanimously approved this change,” Barnes wrote in an e-mail. “This earlier opening will better serve the voters of Dare County and increases our total early voting hours offered to 262.5 hours.”

See the complete schedule »

Related: Republican Party seeks ‘party line changes’ to limit early voting hours »

Early voting for this year’s election was a point of discussion at Monday’s Dare County Board of Commissioners meeting.

The agenda was mostly housekeeping: formalizing an easement on county property in Rodanthe, renewing the lease for the Outer Banks Gun Club on county land and moving a previously approved $1 million from the beach nourishment fund to the fund used for the towns’ project.

Audrey Esposito of the League of Women Voters and Sandy Semans, a two-time candidate for office, former editor of the Outer Banks Sentinel and a free-lance journalist spoke during public comments to present the Board with a resolution on early voting hours recently adopted by the Dare County Board of Elections. Semans was representing Democracy NC.

A recent federal court decision that struck down North Carolina’s Voter ID laws also restored one extra week of early voting to the timetable that the state’s Republican-led General Assembly had adopted in 2013.

The court order compelled county boards of election across the state to hold public hearings and quickly adopt new schedules to accommodate the restored week.

Media across the nation, including many liberal-leaning publications such as The Nation, have noted that GOP-controlled election boards across the state have restored the days but cut the hours, moved the hours to times more inconvenient to voters or have eliminated the number of early voting sites.

In Dare County, where the board is GOP-controlled, some of these tactics were employed, according to the authors of the resolution, although the Democratic representative on the three-person panel seconded the motion for the new voting schedule.

Semans and Esposito both focused on the statistic that Dare County ranked 93rd in voter participation rates out of the state’s 100 counties. The League conducted a survey that showed a demand for expanded hours so that working voters had more opportunities to cast early ballots.

While thanking the Board of Election for extending early voting hours to 6 p.m. on weekdays, they noted that the board adopted other measures that restricted early voting opportunities.

Seamans said that only one polling station would be open on Saturday during early voting, while the board failed to adopt any Sunday hours.

The resolution read to the Board of Commissioners was directed to the Dare County Board of Elections. Commissioner Bob Woodard responded that he was uncomfortable asking the BOE to reconsider without their being present at the meeting to explain their decision.

In a 6-0 vote — Commissioner Allen Burrus was absent during this portion of the meeting — the board voted to invite BOE representatives to a September commissioners meeting to explain and discuss their August 8 decision.

Commissioner Warren Judge then made a motion, given the Friday deadline, that the board adopt the resolution asking the elections board to reconsider.

None of the five Republicans on the board seconded the motion and it died without a vote.

The only other matter of consequence came at the end of the meeting when commissioners and administration provide comments.

Burrus brought up concerns with what he described as an abundance of Internet-only classes offered at College of The Albemarle’s Dare Campus, including vocational classes. He said that if one wanted to take a course in heating/air conditioning, the Edenton campus of COA was the only one available.

Burrus concluded by saying if things remained “status quo” in Dare, the county might want to consider pursuing its own community college.

Judge then stepped in and tempered the discussion. He said in the current climate, there is virtually no chance that the legislature would approve funding for a new community college.

Judge did say that he felt Dare was “disadvantaged” on the COA Board of Trustees, suggesting that Dare should have two more seats on that body — not by expanding the number of trustees — but through reallocating the current representation in the seven-county area.

He also said he felt the college needed more promotion in the area, especially among parents, where COA attendance can provide substantial savings to the family.

Judge said that “COA is considered a satellite campus” and that Elizabeth City was the main campus. The center of attention seemed to be focused there, he said, a situation he suggested needed to be remedied.

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