Election Day is Nov. 8, but Democrats and Republicans alike fear that this Thursday might be the real day of decision. That’s when the North Carolina Board of Elections will decide whether to encourage or discourage voting in Mecklenburg and a couple dozen other counties.
Political scientists can sort through the political fallout of the board’s rulings on each county’s early voting plans. We just hope board members use common sense, make voting convenient and avoid creating long lines on Election Day.
A federal court threw out North Carolina’s voter ID law in July. As part of that, the judges tossed the law’s provisions that cut early voting from 17 days to 10. The judges reinstated the 17-day early voting period, but left the details – such as the total number of voting hours and the poll locations – to county boards of election.
With that, Republicans spotted a way to get around the federal court’s ruling. State Republican Party chief Dallas Woodhouse emailed county boards, urging them to make changes that help Republicans, like limiting hours and killing Sunday voting. By law, Republicans hold a majority on each of the 100 county boards because the governor is a Republican.
In Mecklenburg, chair Mary Potter Summa and fellow Republican Elizabeth McDowell voted last month to cut 238 hours of early voting from the 2012 level. They want to have just six sites open for the first week of early voting, down from the 22 sites used in 2012.
The third board member, Democrat Carol Williams, has proposed a different plan. She would reinstate those 238 hours plus add 88 more. She would have all 22 sites open both weeks, and would keep polls open until 5 p.m. rather than 1 p.m. on the last Saturday.
Because the Mecklenburg board’s vote was split, its competing plans will be among the two dozen or so that the state board will determine on Thursday. The state board is 3-2 majority Republican.
About 252,000 people voted early in Mecklenburg in 2012. This year, the population is larger, the straight-ticket voting option is gone, and the ballot is longer. We need more hours, not fewer. Cutting early voting hours will make it harder for elections director Michael Dickerson to ensure lines aren’t too long on Election Day.
In addition to common sense, state law says that when the state board considers competing county plans, it “shall take into consideration factors including geographic, demographic and partisan interests of that county.” Williams’ plan seems to fit those interests better than Summa’s and McDowell’s.
We’ve yet to hear a cogent argument for cutting early voting in Mecklenburg. Dickerson has the budget to keep the 2012 hours, and Summa’s contention that fraud potential rises with more sites is baseless.
The federal court chastised North Carolina for making voting more difficult. The state board shouldn’t respond with plans that do precisely that.