Court ruling will mean changes for Rowan voters

Published 12:10 am Sunday, August 7, 2016

By Josh Bergeron

SALISBURY — Three weeks ago, Rowan County’s Board of Elections approved a voting plan that included 470 hours to cast ballots, but that total will rise as the agency complies with a recent court ruling.

It’s the second time in a year that an election has been affected by a court ruling. Earlier this year, congressional districts were declared racially gerrymandered, which resulted in a special, June election.

Now, a federal court has declared a 2013 voting law unconstitutional. As a result, voting in November will be a bit different than other elections this year.

The Rowan County Board of Elections received instruction on Wednesday from the state about how to proceed with elections. A memo from State Board of Elections Director Kim Strach outlines specific options for county departments. Strach also says in her memo that the state has revoked approvals of all early voting plans because of the court ruling.

For most voters, the most noticeable affect of the court ruling will be that photo identification is no longer required.

Changes to early voting days will likely be just as significant. The State Board of Elections estimates that 56 percent of voters casting ballots in November’s election will use early voting.

Rowan Elections Specialist Laura Russell said the county Board of Elections will need to extend the early voting period by a week. Rowan’s previous plan started early voting on Oct. 27. Now, the plan will require early voting to start on Oct. 20, Russell said.

One of the options Strach’s memo describes is extending early voting at all sites for an additional week. In fact, she recommends that boards take that option. However, Strach says local boards could also keep previously submitted hours and only add early voting at the local election headquarters — at West End Plaza, in Rowan’s case.

A final plan is due on Aug. 19, Strach tells local boards of elections in her memo. Russell said the Rowan County Board of Elections would likely discuss a new voting plan during its meeting on Aug. 16.

If cost is a concern, Strach notes that state law requires county commissioners to provide adequate funding for elections.

During a July 19 Rowan County Board of Elections meeting, a crowd of people showed up to suggest that the board approve early voting on Sunday. A Livingstone College early voting site was also suggested as an option. The board decided not to add Livingstone College because of cost and the fact that the Rowan Public Library Headquarters is set to be an early voting site.

As a result of the court ruling, voters now can also cast ballots at any precinct. That ballot, however, will be considered “provisional” and will need to be approved by the Rowan County Board of Elections.

Russell suggested that voters update their address now to prevent the chance of showing up at the wrong precinct in November.

Unless courts intervene again, the most recent ruling will be in effect for November’s general election.

Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246.