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House panel moves to cut early voting

Posted May 11, 2011 3:44 p.m. EDT
Updated May 11, 2011 4:46 p.m. EDT

On a party-line vote, the House Elections committee voted today to shorten the early voting period from 18 days to 11 days. 

Early or "one-stop" voting has become increasingly popular over the past few years.  A recent study by Catawba College professor Dr. Michael Bitzer found that 60% of the ballots cast in NC's 2008 general election were cast before Election Day, up from 30% in 2004.  

Bitzer also found Democrats were more likely to use early voting than Republicans. The NC Free Enterprise Foundation has a nice writeup here. 

"We’re not trying to do away with early voting in any way," H658 sponsor Bert Jones, U-Rockingham, told the committee. "The question is, how many election days should we have in North Carolina?" 

Jones said data shows most early voting takes place within the final 9 days of early voting. He says cutting the first week of early voting would save local election boards "approximately 2000 dollars a day per site." It would also save candidates money on campaign advertising, Jones said. 

Majority Leader Skip Stam, R-Wake, said the measure would help candidates. "We want a citizen legislature and this will help us on that. October 2008 was the longest month in the history of the world, I think. The election’s just too long, and of course that favors incumbents and it favors wealthy people." 

Rep. Carolyn Justice, R-Pender, had a similar complaint. "It puts you out there another whole week, working and campaigning," she said. "For folks who don’t have the machine or the money, it is very difficult.”

But Democrats said that wasn't the case. Rep. Angela Bryant, D-Nash, said the longer voting period gives grassroots candidates more time to get  to rural areas in their districts, and gives voters in rural areas more time to get to the polls.  

Rep. Deborah Ross, D-Wake, said the extra week helps lessen long lines at sites in urban areas like Wake County. “Elections are about voters, not about politicians,” Ross said. 

"This is just another way of cutting down on the number of people who vote," said Rep. Mickey Michaux, D-Durham.

Michaux called early voting "one of the most successful things" North Carolina lawmakers have done. "You get more people to the polls with early voting, no question about it. And if you want to stop a whole lot of folks from coming to the polls, which you seem bent on doing anyway, this is the way to do it."

"I’m just so happy we have to have [federal] pre-clearance on all these things," Michaux added.

H658 passed House Elections 16-14, with all Rs for it and all Ds against. Its next stop is the House floor.