Raleigh, N.C. — Dozens of Wake County residents on Wednesday urged the county Board of Elections to provide as much time for early voting as possible before the November election.
Early voting has been a point of contention, with some wanting to eliminate Sunday voting to give poll workers a break and lessen the chances of voter fraud and others seeking to maximize the opportunity for people to cast ballots.
On Tuesday, the State Board of Elections had to resolve disputes on voting schedules for several counties, including Cumberland County.
On Wednesday, Wake County elections staff recommended opening 15 early voting sites across the county for 13 days in late October and early November, but they also offered 15- and 17-day options.
The county board, which was weighing how best to allocate its $1.76 million budget for early voting, heard numerous comments from people concerned that sites near them that have been used for early voting in the past might be closed this fall.
"People's right to vote is precious," resident Robert Hyman said.
"Voting is very important to me," said Rachel Turner, a North Carolina State University student.
"This is not the time to reduce the effort of people to get out to vote," Raleigh City Councilman Eugene Weeks told the board. "It's time for us to accommodate all people so they might be able to get out and vote."
In the end, the board voted on a complex plan that members said would provide more capacity for early voting than in 2008, when 235,000 ballots were cast before Election Day – that is 57 percent of registered voters in Wake County. Officials are projecting 272,000 early ballots this fall.
Even that wasn't a unanimous vote, however.
Aida Havel, the Democratic chairwoman of the elections board, and Republican member Joshua Howard agreed to the plan, but Democratic member Kristi Tally voted no. She wanted to add a 16th site at Marsh Creek Community Center in east Raleigh.
"There's been an expressed need from our voters whom we serve that we need to place a site in that area," Tally said, adding that she might appeal the plan to the State Board of Elections.
As it now stands, the Board of Elections office and four so-called "super sites" will be open 15 days for early voting, while 10 other sites will be open 11 days. Sunday voting will be offered at all sites.
Wake County Commissioner Tony Gurley, who sat through the board meeting, criticized the staggered early voting plan afterward.
"I think that's discriminating against the majority of Wake County voters to the benefit of a few," Gurley said, arguing that the super sites will help Democrats.
He said the Republican-controlled Wake County Board of Commissioners should give the early voting budget a second look, although the county has already put its 2012-13 budget in place.
"I think we should reduce the funding to where all the early voting sites are open the same number of days," he said.
Early voting will start on Oct. 18 at the Board of Elections office, at 337 S. Salisbury St. in Raleigh. The office will be open 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays until Nov. 2, as well as 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 27, 1 to 5 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 28, and 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 3.
The super sites – Cary Senior Center, at 120 Maury O'Dell Place in Cary; Chavis Community Center, at 505 Martin Luther King Blvd. in Raleigh; Optimist Community Center, at 5900 Whittier Drive in Raleigh; and Talley Student Center on the N.C. State campus – open on the Oct. 20-21 weekend from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday.
The remaining sites will open Oct. 24:
- Apex Community Center, at 53 Hunter St. in Apex
- H.C. Young Community Center, at 101 Wilkinson Ave. in Cary
- Falcon Park Hut, at 105 Falcon Drive in Fuquay-Varina
- Avery Street Recreation Center, at 201 Avery St. in Garner
- W.E. Hunt Recreation Center, at 301 Stinson Ave. in Holly Springs
- Knightdale Recreation Center, at 102 Lawson Ridge Road in Knightdale
- Lake Lynn Community Center, at 7921 Ray Road in Raleigh
- Wake Technical Community College campuses at 6600 Louisburg Road and 9101 Fayetteville Road in Raleigh
- Northern Regional Center, at 350 E. Holding Ave. in Wake Forest
The super sites and the other 10 sites will be open 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays until Nov. 2. They also will be open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 27, 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 28, and 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 3.