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.http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/oc-elections-board-struggles-campus-early-voting/
CHAPEL HILL – The Orange County Board of Elections is looking for a site to replace Ram’s Head Dining Hall on UNC’s campus for one-stop early voting next year.
Tracy Reams, Director of the Orange County Board of Elections, says that though the dining hall was convenient for students, it presented several challenges, such as compliance with the standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“It is not conducive to do curbside voting there at Ram’s Head because you have to park in a parking deck and the building is actually located above the parking deck,” Reams says.
Reams says her office is working with Linda Convissor, UNC’s Director of Local Relations, to find another site on campus where student access to the polls won’t be hindered.
“We’re working with the elected officials in Chapel Hill, the students, and the administrative staff there trying to locate another site,” she says.
Due to recent State election law revisions, the early voting period in 2014 will be significantly shortened. With these changes, Reams say she wants to find a replacement site that will help make it easier to vote.
Morehead Planetarium was once used as a one-stop early site, but it was repurposed by the University and is no longer available.
The OC Board of Elections has until March 14 to pick a new site and submit its early voting plan to the State Board of Elections.
“We just want the public to know that they are welcome to attend the meetings and provide input,” Reams says. “We just hope that we can find a suitable site for everybody before that March 14 deadline.”
Reams says that the community can visit the Orange County Board of Elections website for meeting information.
CHAPEL HILL – Early voting for the Nov. 5 municipal and Chapel Hill-Carrboro School Board elections kicks off on Thursday.
Though changes are coming soon to election laws in North Carolina, Tracy Reams, Director of the Orange County Board of Elections, says that the policies will be the same for this election season.
“Most of the changes are coming into play on January 1 of 2014,” Reams says. “One of the things is that they will be eliminating same-day registration.”
Reams explains that anyone who shows up for early-voting this year can participate in same-day registration. The early voting period lasts until Saturday, Nov. 2.
“Additionally, we do have a very low turnout in the municipal elections, and we are hoping with these sites, and hours we hoping folks will utilize these early voting sites,” she says.
The four early-voting sites in Orange County are:
- The Board of Elections Office at 208 S. Cameron St., Hillsborough
- Carrboro Town Hall at 301 West Main St., Carrboro
- Rams Head Dining Hall at 320 Ridge Road, Chapel Hill
- Seymour Senior Center at 2551 Homestead Road, Chapel Hill
All sites will be open Monday through Friday. Rams Head Dining Hall and Carrboro Town Hall will be open during the hours of 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The Board of Elections will be open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Janice Tyler, Director of the Department of Aging, says that the Seymour Center will be open on weekdays, noon to 6 p.m.
“One of the best things about being an early voting site is that we get community folks into the Center that might otherwise never get to come in, so we get to share with them about things that happen at the Center and what the Department of Aging does,” Tyler says.
All four early voting sites will be and all will be open on November 2, from 9 a.m. till 1 p.m.
Click here for more information on the 2013 Election.http://chapelboro.com/2013-election-central/2013-election-votes/early-voting-in-orange-county-kicks-off-thursday/