NC’s New Primary Date Will Cost Orange County More In 2016

This time next year, you might be headed to the polls.

One of the lesser-known provisions of the state’s sweeping 2013 election reform bill will come into play in 2016, when North Carolina’s presidential primary will follow hot on the heels of South Carolina.

“We would be following the primary for South Carolina whenever their presidential preference primary is,” Orange County Board of Elections Director Tracy Reams explains. “So we could be looking at holding a presidential preference primary in February, and then holding the remaining primary contests in May.”

Reams says she’s heard the rationale for moving the date up from May is to give North Carolina more clout in the nomination process.

“From what I understand, they were talking about how in North Carolina, when we hold our primary so late in May, that some people feel like it has already been decided who that presidential candidate is going to be, before North Carolinians get a chance to weigh in on that vote.”

But the move to leapfrog ahead of other states could come at a cost if it’s not OK’d by the national Republican and Democratic parties. The number of North Carolina delegates could be limited, or excluded from the national conventions altogether.

On the local level, the dual primary system will end up costing Orange County twice as much.

“The cost is going to be doubled,” says Reams. “For the presidential preference primary we would have to open up all 44 voting sites; we would have to conduct the early voting period the same way we would in May; we would have advertising costs, ballot printing costs, ballot programming and layout costs. It would, in essence, be double the cost of what we spend in May.”

And it may contribute to voter fatigue in a year when contests ranging from governor to county commissioner will be on the ballot.

“During a presidential primary, we always have a really good turnout,” says Reams. “I’m not sure separating the presidential primary from the other primaries- I’m not exactly sure how that’s going to bring out the people if we’re going to hold an election in February.”

Adding to the uncertainty, mid-February has seen snow and ice this year and last. Reams says it’s possible wintery weather could be a problem next year.

“That would have been a very bad situation, if we have Election Day and we have the weather like we had this week.”

Reams is planning to submit a budget request to Orange County Commissioners this spring asking for more funding to meet the new requirements.

As for the exact timing and process for the presidential primary, Reams says all she can do is wait for state officials to figure it out.

“What we’re waiting for is just more directions from the State Board [of Elections], you know, the logistics and the timing and how we’re going to bring all this together,” says Reams.

Click here to read more on how House Bill 589 will impact local voters in 2016.

Early Voting Turnout Way Up From 2010

The early voting period ended on Saturday, with turnout in Orange County significantly higher than in the last midterm in 2010.

After a spike in turnout on the last two days, when all was said and done, a total of 23,195 Orange County residents cast early ballots this year. To put that into perspective: in the last midterm four years ago, about 16,500 voters cast early ballots – and that was when the early voting period was significantly longer.

Saturday saw the highest daily turnout, with 3256 voters casting ballots – including nearly a thousand at the Seymour Center alone. Bad weather often has a negative effect on turnout, but the rain held off for most of the day on Saturday.

Local political expert Gerry Cohen reported on Facebook that turnout was up across the state too: statewide, there was a 25 percent increase in Democratic turnout, a 5 percent increase in Republican turnout, and a 45 percent increase in turnout among Libertarians and unaffiliated voters. And there was also a big spike in turnout among African-American voters: up about 45 percent from 2010.

See a full breakdown of early voting numbers in Orange County.

Election Day itself is Tuesday, November 4.

Early Voting Still Strong In Orange County

If you haven’t voted early yet, you only have a couple more more days.

Early voting continues through Saturday at five locations in Orange County. So far, turnout has been brisk: on Wednesday, 2348 residents cast their ballots early. About the same number of people cast early ballots on Monday and Tuesday as well.

Through the first six days of the nine-day early voting period, Orange County saw 13,939 votes cast. That puts Orange County on track to end the early voting period with close to 21,000 ballots.

View a breakdown of early voting totals in Orange County, by day and location.

To put that into perspective: during the last midterm election, in 2010, only about 16,500 voters cast ballots early in Orange County – and that was with a significantly longer early-voting period.

There are five early voting locations in Orange County: the Board of Elections office in downtown Hillsborough; Master’s Garden Preschool, also in Hillsborough; Carrboro Town Hall; NC Hillel on Cameron Avenue in downtown Chapel Hill, just off campus; and the Seymour Center on Homestead Road.

Click here for a full list of locations and hours of operation.

With Senate Race Still Close, Voter Turnout Is High In OC

Three days into the early voting period, turnout remains brisk across Orange County – and across the state of North Carolina.

That’s no surprise: turnout is typically lower for midterm elections, but this year all eyes are on North Carolina as the race for control of the U.S. Senate could come down to the contest between incumbent Democrat Kay Hagan and Republican challenger Thom Tillis, the Speaker of the State House of Representatives.

Surveys show the two in a neck-and-neck race, and different pollsters have different candidates in the lead. Last week, Public Policy Polling released its latest survey, showing Hagan holding on to a slim three-point lead, with Libertarian Sean Haugh polling about 5 percent and a sizable number of voters still undecided.

See the full results from PPP.

And we’re not alone. All over the country, more and more surveys are showing more and more races coming down to the wire – which means it’s still entirely unclear who’s going to be celebrating come Election Day.

WCHL’s Aaron Keck spoke with Public Policy Polling director Tom Jensen last week.


As for voter turnout: in the first three days of the nine-day early voting period, 6690 voters cast their ballots in Orange County alone. That means Orange County is on track to see about 20,000 early voters this year. To put that into perspective, about 16,500 residents cast early ballots in the last midterm, in 2010.

The Orange County Board of Elections has broken the numbers down by day and by early-voting site.

Early voting resumes today and continues through Saturday. There are five early voting sites in Orange County: the Board of Elections office in downtown Hillsborough; Master’s Garden Preschool, also in Hillsborough; the Seymour Center in Chapel Hill, just off Homestead Road; NC Hillel on Cameron Avenue in downtown Chapel Hill, just off campus; and Carrboro Town Hall on Main Street.

View a full list of polling sites and hours of operation.

The Seymour Center has seen the biggest turnout so far, with more than 2000 early voters already.

Early Voting Off To Strong Start In Orange County

2,523 voters turned out for the first day of early voting in Orange County.

Five locations opened for early voting on Thursday. Of those, the Seymour Center in Chapel Hill saw the highest turnout with 789 voters. Second highest was the Board of Elections office in Hillsborough with 751 ballots cast.

WCHL’s Jagmeet Mac visited the Seymour Center to hear what’s on the minds of local voters:

This is the first General Election held under the state’s new voting regulations. The early voting period is now one week shorter and no same-day registration is allowed.

The new rules make it hard to compare results with past elections. During the last mid-term election in 2010, the Board of Elections offered three early voting spots. 983 voters cast ballots on the first day all three were open.

Early voting lasts until Saturday, November 1, and Election Day is November 4.

Early voting locations and hours:
Board of Elections
208 S. Cameron St., Hillsborough
Thursday & Friday, October 23 & October 24, 8 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Saturday, October 25, 9 a.m. – 2 p.m.
Monday – Friday, October 27 – October 31, 8 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Saturday, November 1, 9 a.m. – 1 p.m.

Carrboro Town Hall
301 W. Main St, Carrboro

Seymour Senior Center
2551 Homestead Rd, Chapel Hill

North Carolina Hillel
210 W. Cameron Ave, Chapel Hill

Master’s Garden Preschool
(Former St. Mary’s School)
7500 Schley Rd, Hillsborough

The above 4 sites have the following hours:
Thursday, October 23, Noon – 7 p.m.
Friday, October 24, Noon – 6 p.m.
Saturday, October 25, 9 a.m. – 2 p.m.
Monday – Thursday, October 27 – October 30, Noon – 7 p.m.
Friday, October 31, Noon – 6 p.m.
Saturday, November 1, 9 a.m. – 1 p.m.

OC Board of Elections Approves More Early-Voting Hours, But Not Sunday

The Orange County Board of Elections voted Tuesday to expand early voting hours for the upcoming fall election.

But the three-member board did not add as many hours as more than 60 supporters that showed up at the Board of Elections meeting in Hillsborough would have liked.

Tuesday’s public hearing at the Orange County Board of Elections got heated at times between supporters of expanding early voting hours to Sunday, and opponents — particularly, Northern Orange County resident Bill Knight.

“Voting is a constitutional right, but it is also a privilege that was paid for by millions of Americans that shed their blood for it!” shouted Knight at one point, as several in attendance retorted with “It’s a right.”

“It’s a constitutional right that was earned!” he shot back, as Board of Elections Chair Kathy Knight tried to restore order by yelling “Stop!”

A few others in attendance that spoke against extending early voting hours to Sunday, and three of them said they were with the Orange County Republican Party.

One of them, Daniel Ashley, accused the nonprofit group Blueprint NC of organizing the movement to extend hours, in an attempt to take down the GOP leadership put in place by North Carolina voters.

Others argued that the low voter turnout for elections didn’t justify spending taxpayer money for more voting days. That argument was supported by two one-stop poll workers.

But the Sunday-voting opponents were overwhelmingly outnumbered in the room. The enthusiasm shown by people who wanted Sunday voting was noted by Jamie Cox, the lone Democrat on the three-member board.

“I am concerned about not having Sunday hours because of the overwhelming support that that has received from a very broad and diverse segment – many, many segments of our community.”

Some elected office-holders were there to speak up for the Sunday option, including Lee Storrow from the Chapel Hill Town Council; Randee Haven-O’Donnell from the Carrboro Board of Aldermen; and Jenn Weaver of the Hillsborough Town Board.

UNC Student Body President Andrew Powell was there to speak for students.

“Many students are incredibly busy during the weekday – working to pay for college, working on independent research projects, and extracurricular activities; going to classes,” said Powell. “On the weekends, particularly Sunday, they have less direct obligations.”

But the opponents prevailed.

Both Republicans on the Board – Knight and Ana Kuhn – rejected a motion by Cox to add Sunday, October 26th as an additional voting day.

Knight later explained that adding Sunday would be unfair to Board of Elections staff, and poll workers.

Next, Cox made a motion to extend voting by one hour on Saturday, October 25th.

He also moved that the Orange County Board of Elections location on South Cameron Street should be open from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m. on weekdays during the early-voting period. That motion carried unanimously.

The three members also agreed to use the same five voting sites that were used during the primary: The Seymour Senior Center, North Carolina Hillel, Carrboro Town Hall, Master’s Garden Preschool and the Orange County Board of Elections.

Possible Run-Off Election Dates, If Necessary

We could be headed for a run-off in at least one highly contested local election. Tracy Reams, Director of the Orange County Board of Elections, breaks down the possible scenarios if the election results are narrow following the May 6 primary.

Under the current state statute, a run-off, or a second primary, is not required if a candidate gets a “substantial” plurality–which Reams says is defined as 40 percent plus one vote.

“To eliminate the possibility of a run-off, a candidate would need to get 40 percent plus one. If a candidate does not reach that then the second place candidate would then have the right to ask for a run-off in writing,” Reams says.

The Democratic primary race for Orange County Sheriff is looking to be one of the closest contests with six candidates vying for the position.

If just a local election requires a run-off, Reams says it will be held on June 24, seven weeks after the first primary per state law.

If the congressional senate contest requires a run-off, all second primaries will be held on July 15, ten weeks after the first primary.

“There is not a possibility of having a June primary and then a July primary. It would all be held in one second primary.”

The North Carolina Republican primary in the race for the United States Senate appeared to be headed for a run-off, but a recent poll revealed that state House Speaker Thom Tillis has managed to widen his lead.

Reams says that if a second primary is required, there is one important rule unaffiliated voters should keep in mind.

“If an unaffiliated voter votes in the first primary, they would be required to vote the same party in the second primary.”

The last run-off election held in Orange County was on July 17, 2012, for several state offices: the Democratic race for Commissioner of Labor and the Republican race for Lieutenant Governor, Commissioner of Insurance, Secretary of State, and Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Click here to view the full candidate list for the May 6 primary.

NC Approves Five Early Voting Sites For Orange County

The State Board of Elections has officially approved Orange County’s early voting sites, including one close to- but not on- UNC campus.

Concerns about accessibility led members of the Orange County Board of Elections to take Ram’s Head Dining Hall off the list of possible sites this year.

Board members examined other options for on-campus voting, but ultimately settled on the North Carolina Hillel Center on West Cameron Avenue. While that’s close to UNC, some worry its off-campus location will not appeal to student voters.

A plan to use Cobb Residence Hall as an additional on-campus voting site failed to gain traction with the majority of the local board members.

The sites approved for early voting are the Hillel Center and the Seymour Senior Center in Chapel Hill, the Board of Elections office and the Master’s Garden Preschool in Hillsborough, and Carrboro Town Hall.

Recent changes to state law mean early voting will only run for nine days this year and registration during early voting is no longer allowed. The deadline to register to vote is Friday, April 11.

You can download registration forms from the Orange County Board of Elections website, or pick them up at locations around the county:

Board of Elections Office – 208 S. Cameron Street, Hillsborough

Carrboro Town Hall – 301 W. Main St, Carrboro

Carrboro Cybrary, Century Center, 100 N. Greensboro St, Carrboro

Chapel Hill Town Hall – 405 Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, Chapel Hill

Chapel Hill Public Library – 100 Library Dr, Chapel Hilll

Davis Library, UNC-CH Campus

Orange County Public Library – 137 W. Margaret Ln, Hillsborough

McDougle School Library, Old Fayetteville Rd., Carrboro

Persons having business with the N.C. Department of Motor Vehicles may register to vote with the DMV

OC Board Of Elections Approves Five Early Voting Sites For May Primary

The Orange County Board of Elections has selected five early voting sites for the May 6 primary. That’s one more option than last year, and another location could be added when the state Board of Elections gives final approval Monday.

Tracy Reams, Director of the Orange County Board of Elections, says the five selected sites are Carrboro Town Hall, the Seymour Senior Center in Chapel Hill, Master’s Garden Preschool in Hillsborough, the Board of Elections Office in Hillsborough, and the North Carolina Hillel Center in Chapel Hill.

Reams says the state Board of Elections will approve those five sites.

The North Carolina Hillel Center was selected as a replacement location for last year’s on-campus early voting site, Ram’s Head Dining Hall.

Though the dining hall was convenient for students, it presented several challenges, such as compliance with the standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Reams says the North Carolina Hillel Center, located on W. Cameron St., is more suitable for one-stop voting.

“I think the Board chose this site because if the accessibility. It is ADA accessible. It has, what we are hoping is, adequate parking. It had the best parking of the three locations that the Board was looking at, and with the bus service being right there, we just think it would be a good site.”

The Board also considered two other campus locations to replace the Ram’s Head Dining Hall— Sonja Haynes Stone Center and Cobb Residence Hall.

“That will be decided Monday by the state Board of Elections on whether or not an alternative plan will add that sixth site, which would be Cobb Residence.”

Reams says it also important for voters to pay attention to the recent changes in North Carolina’s election laws.

People cannot register to vote during the early voting period as they could in the past.

“If anyone wants to vote early or on election day, they need to meet that April 11th registration deadline.”

House Bill 598, passed by the Republican-led General Assembly last summer, shortened the early voting period from 17 to nine days. The law also requires that all early voting sites must have identical schedules and provide the option of curbside voting.

For more information on Orange County’s early voting sites and their hours of operation, click here.

OC Elections Board Struggles With Campus Early Voting

CHAPEL HILL- Though the Orange County Board of Elections is struggling to find a site for on-campus early voting, members are adamant they’re not trying to limit student turnout.

Board Chair Kathy Knight says the three members are focused the logistics of the state’s new voting laws, not partisan politics.

“We are going out of our way to try to keep something close to campus,” says Knight. “We have other sites we could go to, but they’re too far off campus. We have put out to the university, to the students, that we are trying to come up with a place that is accessible to students and the public. So where that came up, that we don’t want it for the students, I don’t know.”

Ram’s Head Dining Hall was last year’s on-campus early-voting site, but Knight says it is not an option moving forward.

“We have problems with Ram’s Head,”says Knight. “We have to have so many hours and they all have to be open the same hours. You have ball games on Saturdays, which means we wouldn’t be able to be open because we wouldn’t have the parking. So there’s more than one problem with Ram’s Head.”

The Board is trying to comply with the provisions of House Bill 598 passed by the Republican-led General Assembly last summer.

Under the new law, the length of the early voting period is shortened from 17 to nine days, but sites are required to remain open the same total number of hours.  All sites in the county must have identical schedules and provide the option of curbside voting.

With Ram’s Head out of the running, the Board is looking at the North Carolina Hillel Center as a possible site. Past early-voting locations such as Morehead Planetarium and University Square are no longer available due to recent or ongoing renovations.

The Board’s struggle to find a spot for on-campus early voting has drawn scrutiny from those who say Republicans elsewhere are actively working to limit student turnout.

Matt Hughes is the Chair of the Orange County Democratic Party. He says he’s seen a statewide push to disenfranchise young voters.

“It’s undeniable that youth voters tend to vote Democratic and I think that’s at play,” says Hughes. “I think there are those- not our Board of Elections staff- who would like to see the youth vote curtailed and I think there is a coordinated effort across the state to do just that. It’s evident whether you’re talking about Watauga County, Forsyth County or down east in Elizabeth City.”

Last August the Watauga Board of Elections shortened early voting to just four days and removed a polling place on Appalachian State campus.

But Hughes says he’s not sure that’s the aim of Orange County board members.

“I don’t believe that our local Board of Elections is seeking to curtail the youth vote, but we do need to make sure that we’re offering good customer service to our voters in making elections more accessible,” says Hughes.

A recent change in the make-up of the Orange County elections board is fanning the flames of suspicion among some local Democrats, as the three-member board is now Republican-dominated for the first time in twenty years.

That’s because local boards of elections are appointed by the state Board of Elections, and those appointments are made by the Governor. Currently all 100 county elections boards are comprised of one Democrat and two Republicans.

Jaime Cox is the lone Democrat on the Orange County board. He also rejects the notion that local board members are trying to limit student access to the ballot.

“We have a strong history of bipartisan cooperation in the county and I see that continuing this year,” says Cox.

But he acknowledges that reaching out to student voters while accommodating the new rules is proving difficult.

“It is a bit like piecing a puzzle together, trying to find a site that is close in proximity, but that also allows us to provide curbside voting as well as parking for members of the community that are not affiliated with campus or who don’t get around by walking or bicycle or bus,” says Cox.

Both Knight and Cox say they need help from the public to identify potential new sites for early voting on or near UNC’s campus, and with a mid-March deadline to submit those sites to the state Board of Elections for approval, time is running out.

The Orange County Board of Elections will meet February 4 to narrow down its list of early voting sites for the May primary.