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Board of elections discusses upgrading voting machines, making precinct changes

By Natalie Anderson
natalie.anderson@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — The Rowan County Board of Elections met Thursday to discuss using most of a federal grant to upgrade its stock of voting machines as well as a few precinct changes.

Elections Director Brenda McCubbins said the board received a $244,691 grant earlier this year from the federal HAVA Election Security Fund, which comes from the Help America Vote Act of 2002. The board has since used around $40,000 to offset some costs in the 2020 general election, which includes two voting machine rentals and a tabulator used during the recount. Around $205,000 of the grant remains.

She explained the county currently has 49 ES&S AutoMARKS voting machines, which were received in 2006. Though still operable and without issues, they are no longer manufactured. The board agreed to move forward with purchasing 48 newer machines, known as “ExpressVote,” from ES&S. McCubbins said many counties across the state currently use the newer machines.

Before making the purchases, however, the state board mandates that local boards tune in to public demonstrations being hosted by Microsoft teams next week.

The board will meet again on March 16 to move forward with the purchases as well as discuss the proposed 2021-22 fiscal year budget, which McCubbins said is due to the county on March 19.

McCubbins said Thursday she will have a formal resolution at the March 16 meeting that would move precinct No. 7 from Cleveland Town Hall to the West Branch of the Rowan Public Library. The library provides more space and parking, and board member George W. Benson said the move prevents any interference with Cleveland’s governmental operations.

The library would also serve as the one-stop early voting location during presidential elections for the western area of the county.

Benson also raised a few concerns with existing precincts. He suggested moving the current voting site located at the West Rowan Volunteer Fire Department Station 67 in Mount Ulla (precinct 24) to the nearby Mt. Ulla Elementary School because the limited parking can cause safety concerns for the department’s operations.

Benson also suggested combining precincts 22 and 23, or Morgan I and Morgan II, located at the Pooletown Fire Department and West Liberty Fire Department, respectively.

Additionally, with the closure of Enochville Elementary this summer, a new voting site will have to be identified. McCubbins said she is currently looking into using the nearby Piedmont Baptist Church.

Benson also asked about the ability to renumber and/or rename the current 41 precincts for the sake of consistency “because they’re all over the place,” he said. McCubbins explained that the renumbering process wouldn’t allow the county to use the current numbers in place, leading to more confusion among voters. Additionally, such an action could interfere with the vote tabulation process in terms of data collected and submitted to the state.

Board member Mary Blanton suggested creating maps with all the precincts on them and getting them out to the public.

Board members also put on their radar for next year the potential to add a one-stop early voting site in China Grove as the area continues to grow. By the end of early voting during the 2020 general election, the number of votes cast at the South Rowan Public Library in China Grove (13,971) surpassed those cast at the Rowan County Board of Elections in Salisbury (13,937). 

Contact reporter Natalie Anderson at 704-797-4246.

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