Editorial: No ballot box bigotry! State board needs to expand early voting

Posted August 26, 2016 6:00 a.m. EDT
Updated August 26, 2016 7:20 p.m. EDT

A CBC Editorial: Friday, Aug. 26, 2016; Editorial# 8047
The following is the opinion of Capitol Broadcasting Company

The North Carolina Board of Elections has the opportunity to right a terrible wrong.

A month ago a Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals panel unanimously ruled that a variety of changes to North Carolina’s voting laws were discriminatory, aimed with “surgical precision” to reduce opportunities for African Americans and young people to vote.

Now, the state board can expand opportunities for EVERYONE to vote and make it as convenient as possible. The state board needs to mandate this because, sadly, many local elections boards are resisting, and even sadder, they’re being egged on by the state GOP.

The Republicans’ efforts harken to the era of Southern “massive resistance.” But, instead of Gov. George Wallace blocking black students at the school house door, N.C. GOP Chairman Robin Hayes and his party executive director Dallas Woodhouse have planted themselves in front of the ballot box.

The detailed Fourth Circuit order makes it crystal clear that the intent of the election law changes was to curtail and impede African American voters in North Carolina.

Rather than taking the side of a partisan political party, the State Board of Elections should stand by the most important constituency it serves – the voters of North Carolina. Its priority must be to help as many eligible citizens as possible to register and vote – no matter who they are, where they live, what day they worship or the color of their skin.

At a minimum, the state board should mandate that every county offer, as was done in 2012 and 2014, 17 days of early voting, including two Sundays, and to have at least as many voting places as were available in the 2012 or 2014 elections.

In Wake County Mark Ezzell, the Democrat on the county elections board, is fighting the restrictive plan adopted by the Wake County Board of Elections. He has filed a thoughtful and workable alternative to the limited plan the Republican majority recently passed.

The GOP’s plan, to open a single polling place in downtown Raleigh with challenging access and little parking, was an insult to the court and voters in Wake County.

Ezzell proposes increasing from one to nine, the number of early-voting sites from Oct. 20 through Oct. 26. Rather than resist the court order and look for ways to make it difficult for people to vote early, Ezzell says it is the local board of election’s job to expand opportunities for people to get to the polls and increase voter turnout.

About a week after the Court of Appeals ruling, Kim Strach, executive director of the state Board of Elections, wrote local boards: “We strongly encourage county boards of elections to be mindful of expected turnout.” Based on past elections she estimated 56 percent of all voters would use early voting, “which will reduce lengthy lines on Election Day.”

We hope that Strach’s letter signals the state board’s determination to live up to the spirit of the court’s ruling and reject the obstructionism of the state’s Republican Party leadership.

Voting is the greatest privilege – and obligation – for Americans. None of us should take it for granted. For those with the responsibility of managing our elections, there should be no greater reward than seeing as many people as possible fulfilling that obligation.

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