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Elections board approves early voting schedule

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Wilson County residents will have expanded early voting opportunities in the 2018 midterm elections.

On Tuesday, the county’s Board of Elections unanimously passed its one-stop early voting plan in accordance with a new state law that sets parameters for early voting. The details of the new law were discussed thoroughly prior to the board’s vote. Several residents also spoke during the public comment section of the meeting.

“The state is not mandating hours on the weekends,” Wilson County Board of Elections Chairman Chip Futrell said prior to the vote. “That is still left up to us.”

Futrell also said he would like everything consistent for the public to ensure there would not be any confusion on voting times and dates.

“My preference would be to have two sites with the same schedule,” he told the board. “I know that’s more expensive, but it accommodates people better.”

early voting plan

One-stop early voting begins on Wednesday, Oct. 17 and concludes on Saturday, Nov. 3. Wilson County voters can cast their ballots on weekdays from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Board of Elections office on Douglas Street or from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Wilson County Health Department on Glendale Drive.

Those same polling sites will be open for early voting on Saturday, Oct. 20 and Saturday, Nov. 3 from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. and Sunday, Oct. 28, from 1-5 p.m.

NEW STATE LAW

Senate Bill 325 requires the Board of Elections site to be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. every weekday during the voting period. The early voting period begins on a Wednesday instead of a Thursday.

The law also requires that any time the Board of Elections site is open, all other early voting sites in the county must also be open.

County elections boards are permitted to set their own schedules on weekends with the exception of the last Saturday before Election Day. For that Saturday, at least one site must be open from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Elections boards can choose to keep sites open until 5 p.m. that day.

The schedule for Saturday doesn’t have to be the same as the schedule for Sundays, but any time one early voting site is open on a weekend day, all other early voting sites in the county would have to be open for the same hours that day, according to the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina, who cited the bill in context.

WEEKEND VOTING

Earlier this month, the ACLU and Democracy North Carolina sent the Wilson County Board of Elections a letter detailing the law’s changes, as well as what the groups say is the importance of weekend voting in Wilson.

“An average of 109 people per hour voted on Saturday in Wilson County in the 2014 general election, compared with 52 voters per hour on weekdays,” the letter stated, citing data from the N.C. State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement. “Black voters in particular rely on Saturday voting, making up 42 percent of the registered voters in Wilson County, but 52 percent of those who voted on Saturdays during the 2014 general election.”

ACLU and Democracy North Carolina officials say making voting available on Saturdays is important in Wilson County where one in five residents live in poverty and where 25 percent of workers travel outside the county for work.

“Low-income residents disproportionately rely on friends or family for transportation, and many are not able to get a ride during the workweek,” according to the letter.

LEADERSHIP ROLES

The Board of Elections also shuffled leadership roles Tuesday as required by the state. The four-member board’s new chairman is Robert Brown, a Republican, with Chip Futrell, a Democrat, serving as vice chairman. Wanda Davis kept her post as the board’s secretary along with Doug Inscoe as a board member.

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