Editorials

Early voting at stake Monday

The Observer editorial board

A raucous crowd of 300 people packed the Guilford County Board of Elections meeting last week to fight a proposal to cut nearly a dozen early voting sites.
A raucous crowd of 300 people packed the Guilford County Board of Elections meeting last week to fight a proposal to cut nearly a dozen early voting sites. AP

The Mecklenburg County Board of Elections meets Monday to decide how many early-voting hours to provide this fall. Voters who don’t want to stand in very long lines should pressure the board to expand the hours from 2012 or at least not cut them.

When a federal appeals court threw out North Carolina’s voter ID law last month, it also removed the requirement that each county offer at least the same number of early voting hours in 2016 as in 2012. Now Mecklenburg and every other county must submit a new plan to the state by Friday.

There is a danger that some county election boards, which are all controlled by Republicans, will reduce early voting hours or eliminate certain sites in an effort to reduce Democratic voter turnout.

Three points about that: We should be encouraging, not discouraging, voting; Republicans and Democrats use early voting at about the same rates; and people like the convenience and flexibility of early voting. Reducing it could make Election Day a logistical mess.

Mecklenburg provided 2,742 hours of early voting in the 2012 general election and had budgeted to do so again this year. The voting this time was to be done in fewer days but at more sites – 29 instead of the 22 used in 2012.

Now the elections board – Republicans Mary Potter Summa and Elizabeth McDowell and Democrat Carol Hill Williams – must decide the number of hours, the number and location of sites, and whether to allow voting in the evenings and on weekends. We hope they will keep at least the budgeted number of hours, and not create hours-long lines on Election Day.

Mecklenburg elections director Michael Dickerson says he had expected about 62 percent of voters to vote early this year. If cutting early-voting hours forces many of them to vote on Election Day, lines will be long.

That’s especially true this year. The Donald Trump-Hillary Clinton presidential race is expected to drive high turnout, and North Carolina also features tight, high-profile races for U.S. Senate and governor. Throw in a long ballot, more registered voters and the elimination of straight-ticket voting (for which we shed no tears), and the pressure is on Dickerson and the board to keep things moving smoothly.

Go to the board meeting at 5 p.m. Monday, and let board members know you want them to protect early voting.

Want to go?

What: Mecklenburg Board of Elections sets early-voting schedule

When: 5 p.m. Monday

Where: Board of Elections, 741 Kenilworth Avenue

How: The meeting is open to the public

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