Charlotte-Mecklenburg libraries that serve as early voting sites removed signs with information about the upcoming sales tax referendum Monday after complaints that the displays amounted to illegal electioneering near a polling place.
Mecklenburg County voters will decide Nov. 4 whether to increase the county sales tax by a quarter-cent per dollar spent. Eighty percent of the money raised would go to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools for teacher salaries. The rest would be split between Central Piedmont Community College, the Arts & Science Council and Charlotte Mecklenburg Library.
Because it is publicly funded, Charlotte Mecklenburg Library is barred from advocating for the referendum’s approval. But the library system developed informational signs to explain how it would use its portion of the money.
The signs became an issue when early voting began last week. Fourteen of the county’s 21 early voting sites are at libraries.
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County commissioner Bill James, who opposes the referendum, said he received a message on his Facebook page over the weekend from a Charlotte man who saw several of the signs as he waited to vote early at South County Regional Library. He said he complained to poll workers, but the signs remained.
Electioneering laws prohibit campaigning within 50 feet of a polling place. James said he feels the signs were a violation.
“I don’t know of anyone who thinks it’s OK to put a sign next to voting booths,” James said. “That is beyond the pale of acceptable behavior.”
Library spokeswoman Cordelia Anderson said the signs were not placed in the rooms where people vote. “We try to keep voting as separate from library service as possible so as not to disrupt either,” she said.
James’ complaints were passed along to the head of Charlotte Mecklenburg Library, Lee Keesler, and Mecklenburg County Board of Elections Director Michael Dickerson.
Dickerson said he sought advice from the State Board of Elections and was told that it was OK to have signs with information about the referendum in the library, but not in the view of voters.
Keesler decided to have all the signs removed before noon Monday. Because voting lines can snake around inside the library, it was easier to simply take the signs down than to find a place out of sight for them, Anderson said.
This isn’t the first time James has criticized a public agency for publishing referendum-related material. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools printed up a two-page flier detailing how the district would use sales tax referendum money. Like the library, CMS is prohibited from advocating for its passage.
James said the flier went too far. CMS said it was only informational.