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Precincts versus early voting locations

Posted August 13, 2013 5:25 p.m. EDT
Updated August 13, 2013 7:51 p.m. EDT

Gov. Pat McCrory

— Gov. Pat McCrory took to the radio waves today to lay out why he signed a far reaching elections bill that will impose a photo ID for in-person voting starting in 2016.

Leaving politics aside, McCrory repeated one incorrect turn of phrase at least three times, speaking on WUNC's The State of Things, NPR's Here and Now, and in an interview with WWNC.

In all three interviews, he was asked or talked about the changes to early voting. The law reduces the early voting period from 17 days to 10 days starting in 2014. While talking about these changes, McCrory seemed to say the system would be more fair because each early voting location within a county would have to open for the same days and hours. But he added this:

"We have every political precinct open the week before election," McCrory told WUNC's Frank Stasio. On "Here and Now," McCrory said, "We have two weeks of early voting and we changed some of the rules where every precinct has to be open, where politics are not being played out by either political party on having certain precincts open in certain areas to deny people the proper access."

No, 10 days isn't quite two weeks. But McCrory's larger error is conflating polling "precincts" with early voting "locations." 

Precincts are small units of geography that make up the districts from which city council members, county commissioners, lawmakers and the like are elected. On Election Day, voters go to the polling location for their individual precinct to vote. In Wake County, for example, there are 198 precincts, each of which has a different polling site on Election Day. 

By contrast, Wake County has about 15 early voting locations in presidential election years.

So to say that all precincts will be open during the early voting period is both wrong and suggests a level of access that won't really be available to voters. This seems like a slip of the tongue on McCrory's part, but it's one that he repeated and an important difference none-the-less. 

There was a last minute change made to the bill that requires all early voting locations to be open the same number of days and hours, as McCrory said. That same amendment requires counties to offer the same number of total hours of early voting as they did in prior elections. So, for example, if there was a county with three early voting polling locations  open eight hours a day for 17 days, they would have been open for a total of 408 hours. That county would then have to find a way to match that 408 hours, either by opening more early voting cites or opening existing early voting locations for longer or opening more locations.

However, it's worth noting those changes were in an amendment put forward by Sen. Josh Stein, D-Wake, and not part of the original legislation. Stein put that amendment forward to mitigate the impact of reducing the number of early voting days, not to deal with political gamesmanship.