Raleigh, N.C. — Wake County voters will have seven extra days to cast their ballots during early voting this fall, but that extra time applies only to the local board of elections office in downtown Raleigh.
The Wake County Board of Elections met by phone Monday to adopt a new early voting plan in response to a federal court ruling that struck down North Carolina's voter ID law. That law carried a number of other provisions, including one that cut early voting time from 17 days to 10 days.
Under the ruling, local boards of election have to provide for 17 days of early voting.
The county board voted 2-1 in favor of a plan that will open 19 early voting sites from Oct. 27 through Nov. 5. From Oct. 20 through Oct. 26, the plan will open only the Wake County Board of Elections office in downtown Raleigh, including weekend hours on that Saturday and Sunday.
That plan represents something of a compromise between the the three-member board's lone Democrat, Mark Ezzell, and the two Republican members, Ellis Boyle and Eddie Woodhouse.
Woodhouse, who was appointed Sunday night, is a former Raleigh City Council candidate, former staffer for U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms and a cousin of North Carolina Republican Party Executive Director Dallas Woodhouse. His first motion as a board member was to eliminate Sunday voting hours.
Republicans frequently seek to eliminate Sunday voting, sometimes citing religious reasons, as Woodhouse did Monday night.
"My issue with Sunday voting – it's a traditional day of rest, somewhat faith-based," he said. "That was my reason for raising the thought."
Neither Boyle nor Ezzell would second his motion.
"Sunday voting is one of the biggest days of voting for all voters across the county," Ezzell objected, saying that people who work other days often use Sunday voting hours.
Sunday voting is a particularly big deal for African-American churches, some of which use the hours to take "souls to the polls." Eliminating Sunday voting was one of the objections cited in the voter ID lawsuit that plaintiffs said showed the provisions were discriminatory.
Woodhouse also moved to eliminate a polling site on the North Carolina State University campus, but that move also failed for lack of a second. Younger voters are often seen as more likely to back Democrats.
Ezzell voted against the plan and pushed to open more early voting sites during the first seven days of early voting.
"The Board of Elections office is inaccessible for a number of people. It's hard to park," he said.
He pushed his fellow board members to open 10 of the county's 19 early voting locations for the first seven days.
But Gary Sims reported that many of those sites already have been booked for other uses. While the elections board could order some of the sites – those built with taxpayer dollars – to open for early voting, he said most reported that they would have to break contracts or move programs such as afterschool care. That was something that Boyle said he was unwilling to impose.
"It sounded to me like it would be a hardship on most of the 19 sites," Boyle said.
At the end of the meeting, Boyle and Woodhouse voted for the new early voting plan, while Ezzell opposed it. The plan must by approved by the State Board of Elections, and Ezzell will have the option of submitting an alternate plan to the state board.