Local Politics

Roanoke Rapids officials angry over lack of early voting site

Posted April 27, 2018 2:43 p.m. EDT
Updated April 27, 2018 5:59 p.m. EDT

— The largest municipality in Halifax County, Roanoke Rapids also usually has the highest voter turnout in the county. But there's no place in Roanoke Rapids for people to cast a ballot during early voting before the May 8 primary.

In past elections, the New Town Neighborhood Resource Center on Jackson Street served as an early voting site, but for the primary, the closest early voting site is 3½ miles away in Weldon.

"We have some people that are really upset. Our elderly people in town have to drive, and it's a hardship for them," Roanoke Rapids Mayor Pro Tem Carl Ferebee said.

Halifax County elections director Kristin Clark said the Neighborhood Resource Center was already occupied this spring, and officials couldn't find another location that provided enough parking and handicapped access to serve as an early voting site.

"At the time when [the elections board] made, they voted on their plan, we had a board member to resign," Clark said. "At the same time, we received an order from the state that a two-member board could no longer meet, so that kind of left us out there."

County elections board have traditionally had three people, but during a court fight over a new state law overhauling elections oversight, county boards were allowed to operate with two members. Once the state Supreme Court ruled on the dispute this year, those two-member county boards were blocked from taking any action until new members were appointed.

Halifax County's new elections board was appointed in April, Clark said, but it was too late to change the plan.

"We understand that there's a concern. We know it's ideal to have an early voting site in the Roanoke Rapids area," she said. "If there had been more time for the board members to be able to canvass, I'm sure they probably would have been able to find something."

Ferebee acknowledged Roanoke Rapids officials temporarily rented the Neighborhood Resource Center to the local unemployment office, which had to move because of a leaky roof. Still, he said, officials offered space at the local civic center and another city-owned building for use as an early voting site. The elections board didn't think either was suitable.

"We still feel that there was time when the board convened again that they could have made a decision to pick one of the sites that was offered," Ferebee said.

"They felt like they were put in a bind," Clark said of elections board members. "They didn’t know which way to go, and they didn’t want voters to be confused, they didn’t want voters to be uncomfortable."

Sheriff, district attorney, county commissioner, three school board members, a state House seat and court clerk are on the primary ballot in Halifax County. Ferebee said some of the races are hotly contested.

"Your largest city, your largest turnout for early voting, and it just doesn't make sense that it wasn't looked at for the people," Ferebee said.

Clark encouraged Roanoke Rapids residents to get a ride with a community or church group to the early voting site in Weldon – or sites in Halifax, Enfield or Scotland Neck – or simply request an absentee ballot to vote by mail.

Early voting runs through 1 p.m. May 5. The deadline to request an absentee ballot is 5 p.m. May 1, and the ballot must be filled out in the presence of two witnesses or a notary public and postmarked by 5 p.m. on May 8.

Ferebee and Clark have been working together to ensure that the Neighborhood Resource Center will be available in October for early voting for the general election.