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State elections board wants to extend early-voting hours

Posted October 30, 2008

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— The State Board of Elections has ordered all 100 counties in North Carolina to hold emergency meetings to consider keeping early voting sites open later this weekend.

In an emergency meeting Thursday, the state board unanimously agreed to extend Saturday early voting by four hours until 5 p.m. The meeting came after Mecklenburg and Guilford counties sought permission to keep the sites from closing at 1 p.m. as scheduled.

"It's because of the volume of voters and the length of reported lines in some areas," Johnnie Mclean, deputy director of the state elections board, said.

Nearly 1.7 million people – or 30 percent of registered voters – cast a ballot at one-stop sites through Wednesday night.

Some voters in a long line at a Raleigh early-voting site Thursday were philosophical about the wait, while others were determined to make it through.

"I don't want to wait in line later. Well, I'm waiting in line now, but I heard the earlier, the better," voter Meredith Hurley said, adding that she approved of extending hours. "Especially seeing this line like this, I think it would be a great way to cut down more. The more, the better."

"It doesn't matter if I have to go to several places; I just want to get my vote in," said Brenda Branch, who had waited in lines at three one-stop voting sites.

County election boards must hold emergency meetings to decide if they will push the closing time back Saturday. Wake, Durham, Orange, Franklin and Moore county boards announced that they will meet Friday.

County boards must vote unanimously to keep from extending voting hours. If even one member thinks extended hours are necessary, then the closing time will be pushed back. They can also vote unanimously to keep the polls open for less than the suggested extra four hours.

The cost of keeping polls open longer will also be a factor in counties' decisions.

"Obviously, if you have to have precinct officials and polling place officials working extra hours then, yes, it's going to cost more money," Mclean said.

Forty counties must also get approval from the federal Department of Justice to change voting times. Mclean said the justice department would expedite the request and she did not expect the process to create any issues for voters.

Early voting has been a sensitive subject for Republicans this year, because so far, more Democrats have gone to the polls, drawn in part by the Obama campaign's extensive efforts. According to an Associated Press-GfK poll released this week, 59 percent of early voters supported Obama and 33 percent, McCain.

Larry Leake, the Democratic chairman of the state elections board, first proposed allowing counties to decide whether they wanted to extend polling hours. Republican Charles Winfree questioned whether office-seekers could manipulate county boards controlled by Democrats.

"I'm concerned that some counties will and some counties won't, and that will be manipulated by the campaigns. They will hold them open later in Democratic counties, and then will close them early in Republican counties," Winfree said.

So, the board agreed to extend the mandate to all 100 counties, allowing them to opt out only if all members of county election boards agree.

Gov. Mike Easley expressed his approval of the mandate. "I commend the Board of Elections for extending early voting hours, so that everybody registered can vote," he said in a statement.

Rev. William Barber, president of the state NAACP chapter, applauded the extended hours on Saturday and asked for the state to open more voting sites on Election Day.

However, Gary Bartlett, director of the state elections board, said that it would be impossible to add more sites for Tuesday at this late date.

Three hundred sixty-six one-stop voting sites were opened statewide; nearly 3,000 polling places will be open on Election Day, Bartlett said.

Despite those numbers, election officials said voters should be prepared for long lines at any time.

"Anybody who thinks they're going be able to vote anywhere and not wait more than 15 minutes is probably fooling themselves," Mclean said.

41 Comments

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  • bs101fly Oct 31, 2008

    my friends, McCain needs a massage, I've never seen a man more stiff in his movement and when he stammers through a comment he's said a million times, his recovery is pitiful.
    his level on anger seems to always be on the edge of an implosion and my friends i say to you,
    should i smile now or wait until Wednesday morning, when it will be confirmed that Mr. McCain is STILL a US Senator?

  • Bob Sidel Oct 31, 2008

    "Early voting is a horrible, horrible idea and should be outlawed immediately. If you can't make time to vote on one day every 4 years just stay home."

    yeah, the republicans will find a way not to count your vote anyway

  • Quagmire Oct 31, 2008

    Good Move, people have a right to vote.

  • PaulRevere Oct 30, 2008

    Early voting is a horrible, horrible idea and should be outlawed immediately. If you can't make time to vote on one day every 4 years just stay home. (Some exceptions apply of course).

  • doobedobedoodoo Oct 30, 2008

    Early voting, motor-voter registration laws, a new push for same day registration & voting are all geared to help Democrat turnout. Having to count on welfare types who roll out of bed around mid afternoon to remember one specific day and be punctual is a little daunting I'm sure. So, they want to be able to go find'em and bus'em in ...and tell-em' how to vote.

    C'mon.

  • nerdlywehunt Oct 30, 2008

    So I should be mad at the democrats for stealing my vote for Obama? Why don't we just blame Bill Clinton and be done wiht it!

  • foetine Oct 30, 2008

    people have to vote early to make sure that an idiot in the elections board didn't take them off the roll because their name was close to a convicted felon from the other side of the state.

  • CrewMax Oct 30, 2008

    I can understand why a candidate would want people to vote early
    if he didn't want the voter to get wind of late-breaking information that might damage him.

  • Pulling for the Tarheels Oct 30, 2008

    Anyone who is "in line at 7:30" p.m. on Tuesday, WILL be allowed to vote.
    In some counties, there won't be a line, as there have been so many to early vote :-).

  • Pulling for the Tarheels Oct 30, 2008

    Voters - State Board has NOT mandated that hours be extended on Saturday - they mandated that each County Board meet to discuss the possibility. If you plan to vote on Saturday, be there BEFORE 1:00 p.m.

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