Voters in 23 North Carolina counties will have fewer opportunities to vote early than they did four years ago under schedules approved by Republican-led election boards. The decisions came after the N.C. Republican Party encouraged its appointees on the county boards to “make party line changes to early voting” by limiting the number of hours and keeping polling sites closed on Sundays. While Republicans hold a majority on the local elections board in each of the state’s 100 counties, 70 boards voted to offer more early voting hours than they’d had in the 2012 presidential election, while 23 cut hours from 2012. Of the 21 counties that offered Sunday voting in 2012, nine voted to eliminate it, while 12 agreed to keep Sunday hours. Some of the decisions are awaiting review by the State Board of Elections. In 33 counties, local election boards had split votes, which means their early voting schedules will be determined by the state board when it meets Thursday.
Lenoir County’s board of elections voted to cut hours to the minimum permitted by law – a single site in downtown Kinston open only during weekday business hours and on the Saturday morning before the election. That’s less than a quarter of the 443 early voting hours Lenoir had in 2012. In a letter to the state board defending the plan,
Lenoir County’s two Republican board members said the single site would allow poll workers to “monitor voter fraud more effectively.” They say their plan would cost the county only $7,600, while the Democrat on the board sought more voting hours at a cost of $62,000. “The Lenoir County Board of Elections site offers ample space to accommodate all voters willing to cast a ballot,” the letter says. “The site is easily accessible, well known, and safe for all voters.”
The Democrat, Courtney Patterson, told the state board in a letter that his GOP counterparts were following the directive from the N.C. Republican Party to reduce early voting. “One of my fellow board members informed me that the two Republican members of the board had been given an agenda from the North Carolina Republican Party that he felt bound to follow, and he hoped I would not take offense at the position he intended to take to comply with that agenda,” Patterson wrote. He added that the only person who spoke in favor of less early voting during the board’s meeting was John Nix. Nix is chairman of the Lenoir County GOP, and his wife Michele is vice-chairwoman of the NCGOP.