Rowan County Board of Elections sets early voting plans for general election

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 18, 2018

SALISBURY — As the Rowan County Board of Elections met Tuesday to decide on countywide early voting for the November election, the stakes were high.

The board had to come to a unanimous decision on early-voting sites and scheduling. Otherwise, it would have to petition the State Board of Elections to resolve the stalemate.

If the state board did not have enough time to review the petition, early voting might have been limited to one site: the county Board of Elections Office in West End Plaza. Hours also would be limited.

The board avoided the potential hurdle by unanimously approving early voting at three sites throughout the county: the Board of Elections Office, Rockwell American Legion building, and the South Branch of the Rowan Public Library in China Grove.

Early voting will run from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday from Oct. 17 to Nov. 2.

Saturday voting will be from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Rockwell and China Grove locations on Oct. 27 and at the Board of Elections Office on Nov. 3.

The decision came after eight residents from both sides of the political aisle addressed the board.

Elaine Hewitt, vice chairwoman of the Rowan County Republican Party, said she believed having the three proposed voting locations was a fair and economical use of county resources.

She voiced concern about the possibility of an additional site in Salisbury when the other sites had long lines and extreme wait times.

“Salisbury residents should not be given twice the opportunity to vote while other people do not have that opportunity,” she said.

Geoffrey Hoy, chairman of the Rowan County Democratic Party, asked the board to consider a site at Livingstone College as well as adding Sunday voting hours, a sentiment echoed by many others who spoke.

“We have a lot of people who attend worship,” said Hoy. “It’s an easy connection for them to get on the church buses and come do a Sunday afternoon vote.”

Emily Perry, representing Rowan Concerned Citizens, agreed, saying that weekend voting hours are particularly important for the 37 percent of Rowan County workers who travel outside the county for work.

County Commissioner Craig Pierce said he felt Saturday and Sunday voting hours were “going to the extreme.”

He said the commission had taken many measures to ensure voters are able to cast ballots, first by purchasing West End Plaza with ample parking and lots of space and more recently by purchasing new voting machines.

“I think we’ve done an adequate job to be able to give people an opportunity to vote,” Pierce said. “I think it’s time that the voters be responsible for themselves to get to the polls. We have ample opportunity and locations for everybody to go.”

Pierce expressed concern about the money spent on operating certain sites, citing low turnout at the Rockwell location during early voting in the May primary. Staffing these locations used taxpayer dollars, he said.

But Kim Porter argued that he could see no better way to spend his money as a taxpayer than to provide opportunities for people to vote.

Jon Leach, another resident, said that it doesn’t matter that voter turnout was low at certain locations.

“It doesn’t matter if nobody ever shows up for a day somewhere,” Leach said. “Someone might. That’s the whole point is giving the opportunity to vote.”

The board considered two plans at Tuesday’s meeting. The first set Saturday voting only on Nov. 3 at the Board of Elections Office.

Board members decided on a second plan that offered Saturday voting on Oct. 27 at the additional sites.

“I think for the purpose of fairness, if we have a Saturday open in Salisbury, having a Saturday available for those in East Rowan and South Rowan would be the most equitable way to do it,” said board member Stephen Kidd.