NC elections board debates Sunday voting

Posted August 7, 2012 7:27 p.m. EDT
Updated August 8, 2012 11:04 a.m. EDT

— Some Republicans appealed to the State Board of Elections on Tuesday to give poll workers a rest on the seventh day by prohibiting early voting on Sundays.

The move is at the heart of a political tug of war nationwide. Republicans generally view less early voting as an effort to reduce fraud and ease the workload on poll workers, while Democrats view early voting as increased access for people to cast ballots.

In the end, however, it comes down to winning elections for both sides.

In 2008, when President Barack Obama carried fellow Democrats on his coattails, 42 percent of North Carolina voters cast ballots before Election Day, according to state figures. Early voting made up 48 percent of all Democratic votes and 40 percent of Republican votes in the election. Forty percent of white voters went early, as did 52 percent of black voters.

"It's clearly a plan for the Democratic Party to try to maintain their power in North Carolina," Ralph Reagan, a member of the Cumberland County Board of Elections, told his state counterparts Tuesday.

The board also heard religious arguments against Sunday voting.

"It was so evident in our Constitution that Sunday was to be a day set aside from government pursuits," Pitt County voter Coral Joan Whichard said.

Bob Hall, executive director of election watchdog group Democracy North Carolina, pointed to the 2010 election to show that Sunday voting can also help Republicans.

In the mid-term election, when the GOP took control of the General Assembly, 16 percent of Democrats and 18 percent of Republicans voted early. The percentages for white and black early turnout were almost even, and 15.5 percent of all votes cast came before Election Day.

"It doesn't need to be partisan because it's really about making voting more available to people," Hall said.

"I'm for helping Americans vote, and if Sunday is available for the majority of the people who work, then Sunday it is," Cumberland County Board of Elections member Sylvia Williams said.

County elections boards set their individual voting schedules, but whenever there is disagreement, as was the case in Cumberland and a few other counties, the State Board of Elections decides the issue. On Tuesday, the Democratic-leaning state board voted for more early voting in all disputed cases.

"I shouldn't impose my religious feeling on others, and we're not making anyone vote. We're just giving people the opportunity to vote," said Ronald Penny, a Democratic member of the state board.

"There's ample opportunity to vote, and they can certainly do it at a time that doesn't require the staff to work non-stop for 2½ weeks," said Chuck Winfree, a Republican member of the state board.