What do the chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court and the chair of the Mecklenburg County elections board have in common?
They’ll each have a say in how long the county’s early voting period will be this fall.
North Carolina voters could begin casting ballots in a little over two months. That is, unless Chief Justice John Roberts says otherwise.
So what’s going on?
Q. Why all the fuss about early voting?
A. Early voting has been increasingly popular. In 2012, 2.5 million North Carolinians voted early. State elections director Kim Strach said this year she expects 56 percent of voters to cast early ballots. In Mecklenburg County, officials say the figure could be even higher.
Q. Why is this in court?
A. Last month, a panel of three federal judges overturned the state’s 2013 elections law. Best known for requiring voters to have a picture ID, the law also cut the number of early voting days from 17 to 10. The judges said the law discriminated against African-Americans, targeting them with “almost surgical precision.”
This week Gov. Pat McCrory officially asked Justice Roberts to stay the lower court ruling. There’s no timetable for his decision.
Q. What does that have to do with early voting?
A. The law that was overturned required counties to offer the same number of early voting hours as in 2012, the last presidential election – 2,742 in Mecklenburg. So when the law was overturned, so was that requirement. That’s why county election boards are coming up with new early voting schedules.
Q. So what did Mecklenburg County’s board of elections do?
A. After a lot of discussion, the board approved a plan that will open six sites the first week and 22 the final 10 days. That includes three Saturdays and two Sundays of early voting. But they cut the overall number of hours from 2,742 to 2,504, a reduction of 238 hours.
Because the board’s one Democrat voted against the main planks of the plan, the state elections board will have the final say.
Q. Who’s on the board and how did they get there?
A: County elections boards each have three members. Two represent the party of the governor, in this case, Republican. Mary Potter Summa, the chair, and Elizabeth McDowell are the GOP members. Carol Williams is the Democrat.
They were each recommended by their county party and appointed by the state board of elections.
Q: What will be the impact of the reduced time for early voting in Mecklenburg County?
A: That depends on which party takes advantage of it. In 2012, President Barack Obama out-polled Republican Mitt Romney by about 200,000 votes in early voting. But Republicans closed the gap on Election Day and Romney won by 92,000 votes.
Q. So what could Justice Roberts do?
A. He could do nothing and let the lower court ruling apply. If he stays the lower court ruling, the voter ID law and everything associated with it would remain in effect for the election.
That would mean 10 days of early voting, not 17. And in Mecklenburg, that would mean the board would go with the plan it had approved before the appeals court ruling. That plan called for 29 early voting sites and a total of 2,742 hours – 238 more than there would be under this week’s plan.
Q. When does early voting start?
A. As of now, Oct. 20. But if Roberts reverts to the “old” plan, Oct. 27.