State News

Half of N.C. counties to extend early-voting hours

Six Triangle counties were among the 50 that voted to keep one-stop voting sites open an extra four hours Saturday. Two others that decided to keep the original, scheduled closing time were asked by Gov. Mike Easley to reconsider.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Half of North Carolina's 100 counties voted at emergency meetings Friday to follow a state recommendation to extend early-voting hours on Saturday, according to the Governor's Office.

At emergency meetings Friday, the Wake, Chatham, Cumberland, Durham, Johnston and Lee county election boards unanimously voted to keep one-stop voting sites open an extra fours, until 5 p.m. Saturday.

The Orange and Franklin county boards voted unanimously to maintain the scheduled closing time of 1 p.m.

Gov. Mike Easley thanked boards that extending hours and sent a statement asking boards that declined to do so to reconsider their decision.

"We need to make the most of this basic right and responsibility available to every registered voter," Easley said in a written statement. "By simply extending early voting by a few hours now, we will make sure that as many people as possible have the opportunity to cast their ballots."

The State Board of Elections on Thursday told county boards to hold emergency meetings to consider extending voting hours Saturday. Under the mandate, only a unanimous vote could sustain a decision not to extend hours; if any board member wanted it, polls would stay open longer.

State board members said they wanted extra hours to cut down on long lines and accommodate the large voter turnout at one-stop sites.

More than 1.9 million people had cast a ballot at the state's 366 one-stop sites through 11 a.m. Friday. A total of more than 2.1 million North Carolinians – or 34 percent of all registered voters – had voted early, by mail or at a polling place.

Orange County had not experienced problems with excessively long lines and waits at one-stop sites, so the board did not see the need to extend hours, said Tracy Reams, with the Orange County Board of Elections. Reams said that although 43,000 Orange residents had voted early, the longest reported wait was 20 minutes.

Amy Southerland, chair of the Franklin County Board of Elections, said that board members wanted to give elections officials and workers ample time to prepare for Election Day itself.

In Raleigh, voters at a one-stop site in Pullen Park Friday were not happy with the hourlong wait.

"I'd prefer it be a lot shorter. I'd prefer it to be 15, 30 minutes, all over with," voter Sue Vines said.

John Gilbert, chair of the Wake County Board of Elections, said that such long waits convinced him that the state board's decision was correct. Through Thursday, more than 202,000 people had voted at one-stop sites in Wake.

Elections officials said that although the emergency meeting was arranged quickly, they carefully considered all factors – including where the money to pay voting-site staff will come from.

"Everyone, not only my staff but the early voting staff, is on overtime now, and they still have all day tomorrow," Cherie Poucher, Wake County's elections director, said.

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Beau Minnick, Reporter
Anne Johnson, Web Editor

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