Party primaries bring best Rowan voter turnout in decades

Published 12:10 am Thursday, March 17, 2016

Rowan County voters turned out in historic numbers on Tuesday for the 2016 party primary elections.

Two precincts in western Rowan nearly ran out of ballots, lines stretched out of polling places for hours and unofficial numbers for the county show the 2016 party primaries as the highest turnout for a presidential year since 1984, when President Ronald Reagan was elected to a second term. Rowan turnout for party primaries in 2012 and 2008 come close — 2012 falls 0.83 percent shy and 2008 falls 2.14 percent short of 2016.

The voter turnout for 2016 party primaries in Rowan County is 33.24 percent, according to the Board of Elections. More than 30,000 people cast ballots. Turnout will be finalized when the Rowan County Board of Elections holds its canvas on March 22.

Turnout was so high in Cleveland and Mount Ulla that Board of Elections Chairman Dave Collins and board member Gus Andrews were forced to drive additional ballots to polling locations. As Andrews showed up to deliver ballots in Cleveland, the polling location had one ballot left and one voter waiting — a perfect match. Collins said Mount Ulla’s polling location would have run out of ballots without an additional delivery.

Rowan’s historic turnout comes even as voters for the first time were required to show photo identification to cast ballots.

When asked by the Salisbury Post, most voters in Rowan County said they liked or were indifferent about the photo ID requirement. Some said it adds confidence that election results are free of voter fraud.

Jennifer Ridgell, who voted in Granite Quarry, said photo ID “prevents people from voting that shouldn’t vote.” Ridgell added that enough resources are available for North Carolinians to obtain some sort of identification.

“I mean, an ID card is only a few dollars,” she said.

Voters are also able to obtain free photo IDs from the N.C. Department of Motor Vehicles.

Salisbury resident Frances Howe said that “everybody needs to show who they are.”

A minority of Rowan County voters who spoke to the Salisbury Post said the photo ID requirement puts an additional burden on low-income or elderly North Carolinians.

“It just seems like another hoop to jump through that isn’t necessary,” said Salisbury resident Lindsey Griffin.

She mentioned transportation as one barrier to obtaining photo identification. Transportation, however, is one of several potential obstacles for would-be voters, said Salisbury resident Danny Smith.

“I think it’s horrible,” Smith said about the photo ID requirement. “It puts undue pressure on people to produce ID. They might be people who may not be able to afford it; people who may not have transportation to get it; then, birth certificates are documents certain people may not have; passports could be another document someone may not have. In an age where we have the Internet, putting the pressure on people to go and produce identification that a secured Google search could find just seems unfair.”

Voters unable to obtain a photo ID can fill out a provisional ballot and reasonable impediment form. According to the N.C. Board of Elections, reasonable impediments include: lack of proper documents, family obligations, transportation problems, work schedule, illness or disability. Voters can also list “other” and describe the impediment.

Rowan Elections Specialist Laura Russell said 12 provisional ballots were cast in the county because a voter didn’t provide photo ID. One provisional ballot was cast because the voter provided a photo ID that wasn’t valid, Russell said. About 500 total provisional ballots were cast during Tuesday’s election. The provisional ballots related to voter ID were spread out in a number of Rowan’s precincts.

Despite high turnout numbers, voters in Rowan County experienced a number of miscellaneous problems while voting. Some showed up at the wrong polling place. Alvin Poole, who lives near Rockwell, said he was nearly denied the ability to vote because of an error by a poll worker.

Poole said he hasn’t made any changes to his party affiliation or address in recent years. He provided a valid photo ID. Poole added that he voted in 2014 without any error. On Tuesday, however, poll workers told Poole he couldn’t vote.

“The people at the poll just didn’t know what the heck they were doing,” Poole said. “In 2014, I voted with no problems at all, but none of the people who were there working in 2014 were there in 2016.”

He was later told by a Rowan County Board of Elections employee that poll workers made a computer error. A number of poll workers in Rowan were first-timers.

Poole was forced to leave his polling location after waiting 20 minutes. He returned later in the day after speaking to elections staff about the error.

“I’m afraid a majority of people would have just given up,” he said.

Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246.