Voting sites near rally criticized

North Carolina's Republican leaders lashed out at a county elections board that expanded the number of early voting sites open Sunday to accommodate people attending a rally for Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama.

Terri Robertson, director of Cumberland County's elections, said she was concerned that a crush of people Sunday afternoon would leave her staff working all night to process voters. Elections officials are required to process anyone who is in line by close of polls at 5 p.m.

“We decided that the best thing to do for our staff was to open two more sites so they weren't up all night,” Robertson said. The full elections board, including one Republican member, voted unanimously on Friday to open two additional voting sites Sunday, bringing the total to five.

The county does not plan to open voting sites on Sundays for the rest of the early voting period, but will have polling places open the next two Saturdays as well as weekdays, according to a schedule on the state elections Web site.

Linda Daves, chairwoman of the state GOP, said while the party supports extra early voting capacity, the GOP opposes such a move when it is taken to accommodate people surrounding Obama's campaign.

“Their action makes the voting process an extension of a partisan political rally and that is clearly inappropriate,” Daves said.

Early voting opened Thursday across North Carolina and drew some 214,000 voters to the polls in the first two days, leading to hours-long lines in parts of the state and lengthy schedules for poll workers. Thus far the balloting has clearly favored Democrats, with those registered with the party making up 62 percent of those who have voted. Only 22 percent of the voters have been registered Republicans.

Obama's rally in Fayetteville, which ended in mid-afternoon, drew more than 10,000 supporters – many of whom weren't able to get into the speech because of the crowded stadium, but listened to it from speakers outside. His campaign has focused heavily on getting supporters to the polls before Election Day, and the Illinois senator continued that mantra Sunday.

“If you like what you hear today, and if you're ready for change, and if you haven't voted yet, don't wait until Nov. 4,” Obama told the crowd. “We want to get as many votes in as possible as early as possible.”

The Republicans plan to increase their early vote focus in the coming week with a number of scheduled events. Early voting lasts until Nov. 1.