Editorial: Board of Elections should consider expanded early voting plan for municipal races

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 5, 2021

With COVID-19 cases on the rise, the Rowan County Board of Elections should consider more generous early voting plans than previous municipal elections.

Cases have spiked in the previous month from just a few hundred per day to a few thousand. It’s worrying that hospitalizations and intensive care unit admissions are increasing, too, because it means the spike isn’t just resulting in people testing positive and recovering at home. People are getting seriously ill.

More worrying is that the Delta variant, the culprit for the ongoing spike, is more contagious than the strains that roiled the community in late 2020 and early 2021. That means an infected person can now infect a larger number of people in an uncontrolled environment, and there are still spots in Rowan County that could be considered just that. Vaccination rates are improving, but just over half of local residents who are eligible have received the shot; many unvaccinated folks are shunning masks.

In 2020, with an assist from the State Board of Elections, Rowan County made significant expansions to early voting because of suspicions that COVID-19 would get worse around election time. The expansion allowed people to cast ballots on Sunday and provided more hours for the historic number of voters who cast a ballot.

This time, the expansion would occur amid a spike, but we shouldn’t count on things subsiding by election time. A much-lower number of voters also will be eligible to cast a ballot in 2021 than in 2020, but people should be able to vote in contests like Salisbury’s first mayoral election with some additional peace of mind about the safety of polling places.

Some changes worth considering include multiple locations for early voting and expanded hours for weekend voting.

In 2019, the Rowan County Board of Elections only provided West End Plaza for early voting. How about an early voting site in China Grove or Kannapolis for folks voting in one of the county’s southern municipalities, an eastern Rowan location or a second site in Salisbury? It’s understandable that limits on funding and resources mean the Board of Elections could be unable to provide multiple sites for the entirety of the early voting period.

Local elections officials in 2019 provided a single Saturday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. for early voting. It’s worth discussing an expansion of those hours as well as allowing at least one Sunday for early voting.

Members of the Rowan County Board of Elections and the general public will disagree about some details of an expanded early voting plan, but it’s prudent to have the discussion.