NCGOP Leader Pushed for Allowing One Early Voting Site Per County
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NCGOP Leader Pushed for Allowing One Early Voting Site Per County

First congressional district chairman argued that more sites would give Democrats an advantage

September 8, 2016

As the North Carolina State Board of Elections meets to determine early voting schedules for 33 counties, The News & Observer (N&O) has revealed that one of the state's GOP leaders lobbied Republican county election officials to allow only one early voting site per county.

The Email

In his email, which contained the subject line "CRITICAL and CONFIDENTIAL," Republican 1st Congressional District Chairman Garry Terry reminded the election board members that they "are expected to act within the law and in the best interest of the party" and argued that allowing early voting hours at more than one early voting location—the minimum required by law—would give the Democratic Party an advantage in the November elections.

"We will never discourage anyone from voting but none of us have any obligation in any shape, form or fashion to do anything to help the Democrats win this election," Terry wrote. "Left unchecked, they would have early voting sites at every large gathering place for Democrats."

Although Terry labeled the email "confidential," all emails sent to members of county boards of election are subject to North Carolina's public records law and therefore must be released upon request. N&O made this request recently to the Vance County Board of Elections, which complied by providing the email.

Terry suggested two courses of action for county board members: either to make the "financially prudent decision" by scheduling one location for early voting during weekday business hours, or to "do nothing and do not meet at all" prior to the state's deadline to file schedules for early voting. The latter, he says, would result in minimum hours being automatically set by the state.

The State Board

The State Board of Elections is meeting on Thursday, September 8, to settle disputed schedules for early voting in 33 counties, including Wake, Orange, Mecklenburg, Franklin, and Harnett. Because the governor is a member of the Republican Party, the county election boards, which comprise three members, have a Republican majority. These Republican board members in five of the 33 counties hope for a plan along the lines of Terry's suggestion, i.e. one location for early voting with daytime weekday hours and Saturday hours.

Several counties have voted for similar plans, ten unanimously and five in dispute. Democrats in Bertie, Duplin, Lenoir, Martin, and Pamlico Counties have suggested other plans involving more locations and hours. In those counties where the plans were approved unanimously, the schedules are final, meaning the State Board won't step in.

Patsy Keever, chairwoman of the N.C. Democratic Party, sent a five-page memo to members of the State Board to explain the Democratic Party's early voting priorities. She claims that there were some county boards that used the state's elimination of a requirement that counties offer at least as many early voting hours as they offered in the 2012 elections as "an opportunity to restrict early voting in a manner that will be damaging to the electorate as a whole, and to African-American voters in particular."

Keever is lobbying the State Board to decide on schedules that will include more, not fewer, early voting hours and locations than were offered in the 2012 election, including numerous locations to be offered in the first week of the early voting period. Wake is one of the counties offering only one early voting location during the first week: the Board of Elections office downtown.

Additional Concerns

The Democratic Party also wants early voting schedules to include Saturday and Sunday hours as well as an extension of the hours to at least 5pm on the last day of early voting. Sunday voting has been a popular practice in the past among many African-American voters, who would go to the polls in groups after attending Sunday church services.

Keever also points out that the federal court that threw out North Carolina's voter identification law—the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals—will probably check to ensure that the state's schedules for early voting are in compliance with its ruling. The court was particularly concerned in that ruling with the reduction of Sunday voting and its effect on voting practices among racial minorities, stating that the law's "provisions target African Americans with almost surgical precision."

"Efforts to eliminate early voting on Sundays defy the court," Keever wrote, "and are likely to disproportionately affect African-American voters and violate both the U.S. Constitution and the Voting Rights Act."