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Letter: ACLU encourages Board of Elections keep Saturday early voting hours

SALISBURY — The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina and Democracy N.C. have reached out to the local Board of Elections regarding early voting plans. In a letter sent to Rowan County Board of Elections Director Nancy Evans, the organizations cites concerns and offers guidance regarding Senate Bill 325.

The bill, passed June 27, impacts and limits local the local board’s ability to set hours for early voting. The Rowan County Board of Elections will meet Tuesday to discuss early voting schedules at local polling sites. The final law states that early voting sites cannot open earlier than the third Wednesday before Election Day — as opposed to the third Thursday, previously. For 2018, counties have the option of opening early voting sites on weekends, including the Saturday before an election.

According to the letter, the Rowan County Board of Elections has previously used local flexibility to open particular polling sites for early voting over the weekend. But House Bill 325 dictates that whenever early voting is open at one location — weekday or weekend — all other polling locations must also be open and maintain the same hours.

“The schedule for Saturdays need not be the same as the schedule for Sundays, but anytime one early voting site is open on a weekend day, all other early voting sites in the county must be open for the same hours that day,” the letter states.

The Board of Elections early voting site — and therefore all other sites — must be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. during weekdays.

While the new requirements could put a strain on Board of Elections resources, the groups urge the board to not give up on Saturday voting, which is essential to minority populations and those who live in poverty. Approximately 17 percent of Rowan County residents live in poverty, and roughly 37 percent of employed county residents work outside of Rowan, according to the organizations.

“For those who work multiple jobs or work outside the county, the weekend is often their only opportunity to go to the polls because their work and travel schedules make them unavailable on weekdays,” the letter said.

According to data from the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement, during the 2014 general elections Rowan County polls saw a greater influx of voters on the weekends than during weekdays. And black voters made up 29 percent of those voting on weekends. According to the ACLU, the early voting poll at the Rowan Public Library’s Salisbury Location saw roughly five times as much traffic on Saturdays than other early voting sites in the county.

“For these voters, having access to Saturday voting may be their only opportunity to vote in person,” the letter said.

The two groups also underline the importance of satellite early voting polls on Saturdays.

“In a county that covers more than 500 square miles, offering early voting sites outside the Board of Elections office (or the Main Library in Salisbury) ensures that low-income voters and others with limited mobility or access to transportation, like seniors and people with disabilities, have access to in-person voting,” the letter said.

Finally, the organizations make a recommendation they hope the board will consider at its upcoming meeting.

“In light of the new restrictions Senate Bill 325 imposes and local voting patterns in Rowan County, we encourage the Board to make early voting widely available at satellite sites on weekends and at as many sites as feasible during the week, and to consider opening an additional early voting site in Salisbury, where voter demand is high,” the letter aid.

The groups said they would support the board in requesting more funds from the Rowan County Board of Commissioners if needed, and encouraged the board as it moves forward.

“We know we all agree: early voting, including accessible sites and weekend hours, is a vital part of our healthy democracy in North Carolina,” they said.

Similar letters have been sent to North Carolina’s 99 other counties.

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