A local one-stop voting plan for the general election was approved unanimously by the four-member Sampson Board of Elections Friday, the final day for such plans to be submitted by counties to avoid the state stepping in.
Local elections officials met Tuesday to discuss the formulation of the one-stop voting plan. However, with no consensus on off-site locations or hours reached, talks continued Friday, with the two Democrat and two Republican board members coming to an agreement within a half hour.
According to Sampson’s approved plan, early voting will be held at the Sampson County Board of Elections, as well as two off-sites — down from four in 2016 and three in 2014. Those sites will be in Garland and Newton Grove.
On June 27, the N.C. General Assembly overrode the governor’s veto to enact SB 325, which alters the schedule for early voting in North Carolina. The early voting period now begins a day earlier, on the third Wednesday before Election Day (Oct. 17). It was set to end the Friday before Election Day (Nov. 2), but on the last day of session, HB 335 was approved, adding back the last Saturday of early voting (Nov. 3).
Sampson’s schedule will include the same hours for the main site at the Board of Elections as well as the two additional sites. Those hours will include 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, from Wednesday, Oct. 17, through Friday, Nov. 2; 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on three Saturdays (Oct. 20, Oct. 27 and Nov. 3); and 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 28. The only day in the 18-day period when early voting will not be available in Sampson is Sunday, Oct. 21.
In all, polls will be open for 510 hours for one-stop voters — 170 hours at each of the three sites.
On each weekday during the early voting period, all additional one-stop sites in the county must be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., according to the new law. In short, any day a one-stop site in the county is open, all one-stop sites in the county must be open on that day. Weekends hours may vary as long as the number of hours at each site is the same.
The Sampson board chose to keep hours the same at all sites, weekday and weekend, to cut down on confusion.
A second option presented by Board of Elections director Ashley Tew would have offered the four off-sites in Garland, Newton Grove, Roseboro and Plain View, but due to the funds necessary to outfit and operate those sites, it would have come with the elimination of all weekend voting other than the required final Saturday.
Ultimately, the board members agreed that they wanted to have weekend voting, rather than operate four off-sites as was done two years ago. Cost was also a huge factor. The total cost to operate the approved three sites will be roughly $30,000, to include total wages for poll workers and mileage costs. Under the five-site proposal — BOE and four additional sites — that estimated cost would hover close to $50,000, Tew noted.
“The budget is a huge issue, obviously. If we are going to take away places,” Tew said this week. “I want to give them time to vote.”
In 2016, The Board of Elections Office saw 9,224 early voters, while Plain View has 2,139, Roseboro had 1,975, Newton Grove had 1,150 and Garland had 740. In 2014, the numbers were similar, although Plain View wasn’t a site then. That year, the Board of Election Office had 4,146 early voters, compared to 904 in Roseboro, 696 in Newton Grove and 404 in Garland.
The four board members expressed their desire to have at least one site in the northern end and one in the southern end. While Garland has voted the least of any off-sites in both 2014 and 2016, it was seen as a better option for voters in central and southern Sampson as Roseboro is going through some detours with the N.C. 24 project. Newton Grove was considered a better candidate over Plain View, which was new as of 2016 even though it voted the most of any of the four off-sites.
Leading up to Friday’s vote, Democrat board member G.H. Wilson said he wanted to see the one-stop plan formulated at the local level. He said he was willing to compromise to achieve that. Republican Quincy Edgerton expressed the same sentiment. Failure to come to that unanimous decision on Friday would have left Sampson’s plan in the hands of the nine-member N.C. State Board of Elections & Ethics Enforcement.
“I will sit here and do what we can got the betterment of all the voters,” Democrat Horace Bass said Monday, expressing his pleasure with the compromise. While he initially wanted to explore having all the off-sites open, he also lobbied to have weekend voting. Interim Democrat Party chair Charlotte Murphy told the board Tuesday that she and other party officials wanted to see Saturday and Sunday voting included in Sampson’s plan.
Sampson County Republican Party chairwoman Telia Kivett was in attendance Friday and echoed the desire to see voting opportunities extended when possible.
“We want them to get out there and early vote,” Kivett said, referring to all eligible voters.
Board chairman Danny Jackson, a Republican, said he appreciated the people on both sides of the aisle giving their input to the bipartisan board as part of the process.
“We do appreciate you coming out,” Jackson stated. “These meetings are open to the public.”
Managing Editor Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 2587.