In Mecklenburg, uncertainty over voting rules complicates job of election official

If a federal appeals court suspends a new state voting law before the Nov. 4 election, Mecklenburg County’s elections director said he’ll be ready to expand the early voting period by seven days.

The new law shortens early voting from 17 to 10 days. Under that schedule, the early voting period would begin Oct. 23 and continue to Nov. 1. But if the three-judge panel grants an injunction, early voting would have to begin Oct. 16, Mecklenburg elections Director Michael Dickerson said.

Dickerson said he will quickly find sites that could handle the expanded days. He said he worked with Mecklenburg Park and Recreation Director Jim Garges and Mecklenburg Library CEO Lee Keesler to secure sites at branch libraries and recreation centers for the 10-day period.

If the appeals court panel upholds a decision by federal Judge Thomas Schroeder not to grant the injunction, then the November election will run under the new laws.

That means there will be no same-day voter registration during the early voting period and the deadline to register for the Nov. 4 election is Oct. 10.

Registration forms must be hand-delivered to Dickerson’s office or postmarked by that day.

The new law requires that counties keep the early voting sites open for as many hours during 10 days as they did in 2010 during 17. In Mecklenburg, that was 1,520 hours, Dickerson said. To get to 1,524 hours, he established 21 sites – six more than in 2010 – and will open each site an hour earlier.

The new law also bans counting ballots cast in the wrong precinct.

Voters must fill out a state form to request an absentee ballot, and those ballots must be turned in with the signatures of two witnesses 18 or older or a notary public. Oct. 28 is the last day to request an absentee ballot. To get the request form go to: www.meckboe.org.

Other changes include the ballot order of candidates in partisan races. Candidates in the party of the governor will appear first. So in the U.S. Senate race, Republican Thom Tillis’ name will appear before incumbent Democrat Sen. Kay Hagan.

Finally, there’s no longer straight-party voting on the ballot.

“Voters will be forced to go through each partisan race,” Dickerson said.

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