Tue February 25, 2014
Many Counties Seek Exemption From NC Early Voting Requirements
More than a third of North Carolina's counties are asking for an exemption from part of the sweeping election overhaul the General Assembly passed last year. Those exemptions would allow counties to cut early voting periods beyond what the new law already does.
There are a couple ways to look at the early voting changes that are part of the overhaul. On a calendar, it's simple: there are seven fewer days of early voting.
But Republicans who back the law have argued that's not really a cut. Governor Pat McCrory explained how on WFAE's Charlotte Talks a few months ago.
"The number of hours of early voting is going to be the exact same number of hours," he said.
That's another way to look at it: by hours. Counties still have to offer the same total hours of early voting. They just have seven fewer days to work with. And counties get that total number by adding up the hours they had at each polling site.
At least, that's how the law was written. In reality, four counties will cut days and hours. Many others are asking the state Board of Elections if they can, too.
"We have 35 that have been considered by the state board, and then perhaps a handful beyond that," said George McCue with the state Board of Elections.
Most of the counties asking for exemptions are rural, and McCue said there are a couple things to keep in mind.
"These hours reduction requests are passed by a unanimous county board of elections, which represents both major political parties," he said. "That's a requirement for those requests to be made in the first place."
Also, McCue said some counties simply overdid early voting in the last midterm election, obviously without knowing that state lawmakers would use that election as a benchmark.
Warren County in the northeast part of the state, for example, added an early voting site in 2010. Deborah Formyduval is the county's director of elections.
"It was a very poor turnout to that site," she said. "We averaged one voter per hour in that site."
Formyduval said it's a waste of county money to do that again. The state Board of Elections agreed.
And Formyduval said even though her county is cutting total hours, early voting will be open from 7:30 in the morning to 7:30 at night. She said the county has to do that to even get close to matching what it did in the past now that it has a week less to work with.
Representative Ruth Samuelson from Charlotte said that's kind of the point. She was one of the election overhaul's primary sponsors.
"We knew that would require some of these locations be open longer hours and that it would increase the odds that you have more locations open, which for a lot of people would be more convenient," she said.
But some county election directors say lawmakers fixed something that wasn't broken. Early voting had surged in popularity over the past few elections to the point that in 2012, roughly 57 percent of North Carolina voters cast their ballots early.
Here's a list of all the counties that have requested exemptions so far: