Amid Public Outcry Guilford BOE nixes initial proposal, establishes early voting sitesBy Yasmine Regester / August 12, 2016
More than 200 Greensboro community members marched to the Guilford County Courthouse to attend a Board of Elections emergency meeting on Monday, August 8. The meeting was set to address the board’s proposed 2016 early voting plan.
The proposed plan was to eliminate early voting on Sundays and reduce early voting sites from 22 to 12, which would have included the closure of several voting sites used predominantly by African Americans and young voters.
Concerned that the board would be removing Barber Park, North Carolina A&T State University and The University of North Carolina at Greensboro from the list of polling sites, community members marched to the courthouse from Beloved Community Center (BCC) before the meeting in opposition to the board’s potential changes.“In Greensboro we tout our universities and [our city] as being a college town. For the students to not have access to democracy and early voting right on their campuses is wrong,” said Ray Trapp, District 8 Guilford County Commissioner.
Concerned residents approached Kathryn Lindley, BOE chairperson multiple times to ask for a public comment period and when the requests were refused, community members joined hands and began singing “We Shall Not Be Moved.” Community members also sang and chanted “let the voters speak” and “stop suppressing the vote.”
The BOE is comprised of three people: two Republicans: Kathryn Lindley, chairperson and Don Wendelken, board secretary along with Horace “Jim” Kimel, a Democrat.
While the audience sang and chanted, the board members nixed the initial proposal to eliminate polling places at A&T and UNC Greensboro. The board unanimously approved a plan which calls for 25 early voting sites. They reinstated seven days to the early voting period, one-day of Sunday voting and three additional polling sites for this year’s presidential election. A&T students will be able to vote on campus at the Dudley Building. The polling site for UNC Greensboro students has been moved to the new Kaplan Wellness Center, located on a busy street on the periphery of the campus. As it stands, UNCG students will have to navigate heavy traffic along Gate City Boulevard.
Rev. Nelson Johnson of BCC said, “N.C. A&T alone has about 10,000 students. To not have a voting place there is outrageous,” said Johnson, who added that the approved plan was a compromise.
“What we got was not insignificant. It’s unfortunate we didn’t get the voting places that we needed on the first six to seven days, but we got the hours back. Most important thing is the people stood up and you can never underestimate that,” said Johnson.
A revised early voting plan was required after a three-judge panel of the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond overturned North Carolina’s restrictive 2013 Voter ID law, on July 29. The law required voters to show photo identification to cast a ballot, eliminated a week of early voting, Sunday voting, same-day registration, out-of-precinct voting and pre-registration for 16- and 17-year-olds, banned straight ticket party voting, and introduced more restrictions on casting provisional ballots.
The lawsuit filed by the U.S. Justice Department, the North Carolina NAACP, other civil rights organizations and North Carolina citizens asserted that the state’s Voter ID law violated the U.S. Constitution and the Voting Rights Act because it intentionally discriminated against African Americans.
According to the ACLU of North Carolina, 70 percent of African American voters in North Carolina used early voting in the 2012 election.
Carolyn Coleman, a Guilford County Commissioner and a plaintiff listed in the lawsuit against the Voter ID law, said while she was glad early voting was restored, she was unhappy with the courthouse being the only open site within the first week of early voting.
“There’s no parking, it’s difficult to get in and out of the building. This is not the best place in the city to vote,” said Coleman, who is bound to a wheelchair.
Greensboro pastor Mazie Ferguson asked the board to consider people’s varying work hours.
“Not everyone works a typical 9 to 5,” said Ferguson. “That’s why the polls should be open until 9 p.m.”
Charlie Collicut, executive director of the Guilford County Board of Elections told The Peacemaker, “There are more hours for this plan than we used in 2012. Some will be satisfied and some will not.” (Collicut does not serve on the BOE)
Early voting will begin Thursday, October 20 – October 26, at the Old Guilford County Courthouse-Blue Room. Open EVERYDAY from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. The other 24 sites throughout the county will be OPEN DAILY on October 27, from 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. until November 5 when hours switch, 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. The Board of Elections approved one early voting Sunday, October 30, in which ALL EARLY VOTING SITES will be open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Election Day is November 8, and voters can only cast a ballot in their assigned precinct from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. The early voting plan now goes before the North Carolina State Board of Elections for final approval.
For more election related information visit www.myguilford.com/elections.