In June, the North Carolina General Assembly passed legislation mandating that all early voting sites in the state remain open for uniform hours on weekdays from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., a move supporters argued would reduce confusion and ultimately make early voting easier and more accessible. But with the start of early voting only weeks away, county election officials across the state — who previously had control over setting polling hours in their jurisdictions — say the new law has hamstrung their ability to best serve voters. Some officials in rural counties say they’ve had to shrink the number of early voting locations to accommodate the law’s longer hour requirements and stay within their budgets. A ProPublica analysis of polling locations shows that North Carolina’s 2018 midterm election will have nearly 20 percent fewer early voting locations than there were in 2014. Nearly half of North Carolina’s 100 counties are shutting down polling places, in part because of the new law. Poorer rural counties, often strapped for resources to begin with, are having a particularly difficult time adjusting to the new requirement.
The closure of polling locations increases the time it takes for voters to travel to the polls, and it could result in lower turnout, making matters worse for a state already dealing with Hurricane Florence. Early voting in North Carolina begins on Oct. 17.
We interviewed more than two dozen county election officials across North Carolina. None said they were in favor of the new law, and none said they were contacted by state lawmakers for counsel on the legislation. Some referred to the policy as “overkill,” a waste of resources and an “unfunded mandate,” particularly burdensome for cash-strapped counties.