A lack of county funding has Wake County elections officials mulling over how to stretch their budget to keep early-voting sites open for this fall’s presidential election. The Board of Elections was considering cutting the number of one-stop polling places for November’s election by 25 percent. But members voted Friday to reconsider after a public hearing at which 27 people spoke against the move. Fifty-seven percent of all registered voters in the county – 235,000 – used early voting in 2008, and officials expect that number to rise to an estimated 272,000 this fall. The board had asked county commissioners for $3 million for early voting, but received only $1.7 million – enough, says election board staff, to keep only 11 of the 15 sites from 2008 open this year. They would also be open fewer days and fewer hours. Overall, the number of hours available for early voting would be cut by half – from 1,456 hours in 2008 to just 725 hours this fall.
That didn’t sit well with any of the speakers at Friday’s hearing. “There is something missing with this picture,” said Raleigh resident Gene Alston. “It’s going to take the right away from thousands of North Carolinians. You guys need to make it work,” community activist Octavia Rainey told the three-member elections board. “You need to bring back 15-plus sites. I don’t care how you do it.”
“I need to say to the three of you, I don’t get this,” said Sandra Johnson. The election budget has to cover not only early voting sites, but also staff, training, equipment and paper. As a result of redistricting, there will be 102 different ballot styles this fall – far more than the 42 ballot styles in 2008.