Editorial — Time to invest in democracy

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Regardless of the potential for diminishing returns, it’s important that election officials give Rowan County every possible opportunity to vote.

A recent ruling in federal court struck down a 2013 law that imposed restrictions on voting. With the ruling, Rowan County’s current voting plan for November has been invalidated. Now the Board of Elections must approve a new plan that complies with the court’s ruling.

The local Board of Elections has a few options. It could expand early voting hours at all the current voting sites for an additional two weeks, only add additional early voting time at West End Plaza, or take restrictive action that’s too ludicrous to mention. During its meeting on Aug. 12, the Rowan County Board of Elections is expected to pick an option for November’s elections.

A good crowd turned out at a recent Board of Elections meeting to argue for a Livingstone College voting site and Sunday early voting. The final plan included some improvements but not the ones that are required to ensure that voters have more access to cast ballots.

Diminishing returns and budget constraints were two arguments against the plan. In other areas of county government, however, diminishing returns and budget constraints weren’t a concern. Let’s examine a couple of instances when county commissioners have been willing to spend lavishly:

• The commissioners have spent millions to build hangars at the Rowan County Airport. To build the newest hangar, the county needed a $2.4 million loan.

Surely if commissioners were willing to agree to a multi-million-dollar loan to bring new airplanes to Rowan County, they would be willing to spend a few thousand extra dollars to ensure local residents have every opportunity to participate in democracy.

• County Commission Chairman Greg Edds recently presented a proposal to build signs on I-85 at an estimated cost of $650,000. The signs may look nice, but it’s not clear what they bring to Rowan County, other than perhaps improving our image. Raising Rowan’s profile is a good idea, and private businesses may help defray the signs’ cost, but maybe we could spend some of those funds to make it easier to vote instead.

How much does an improved image really help economic development? There are plenty of counties that are thought of positively without giant welcome signs at their entrances.

When the Rowan County Board of Elections meets on Aug. 12 to consider a new election plan, it should approve an option that gives voters the greatest opportunity to cast ballots, and send commissioners the bill.

In the most recent election — a June special primary — a total of 9 percent of Rowan voters cast ballots. More specifically, 8,285 of Rowan County’s 91,553 registered voters found Congress and the NC Supreme Court important enough to cast ballots.

In the election before that — the March primaries — turnout was 34 percent.

In the last general election, turnout was almost 67 percent. Generally, people think of 67 percent as a good turnout for elections. However, what if 67 percent of students showed up daily for classes? The results wouldn’t be good.

It seems that the 21st century has brought decreasing voter turnout numbers — a sad reminder of the apathy that exists in American society. Perhaps we’ll only see a small increase in turnout with more easily accessible voting sites and expanded hours. Diminishing returns, however, shouldn’t be a valid argument when our county is willing to spend $650,000 on welcome signs.