BOE adds early voting sites, but not WSSU

BOE adds early voting sites, but not WSSU
August 18
07:30 2016



The Forsyth County Board of Elections added two sites aimed at minority voters, but still didn’t include Winston-Salem State University in its new early voting plan at the meeting held on  Thursday, Aug. 11.

The BOE passed an early voting plan last month, but county boards of election across the state are having to revisit their plans after a federal appeals court overturned North Carolina’s voter ID law. The omnibus voting law, which the court ruled was discriminatory, had numerous other provisions, including shortening early voting from 17 to 10 days, which were also overturned.

While the BOE did keep the 15 sites in its plan, the board did add sites, with board members Fleming El-Amin and Stuart Russell haggling over how many to add. El-Amin, the board’s sole Democrat, held firm on adding two sites: St. Paul United Methodist Church and Sprague Street Community Center. Stuart originally just wanted to add Sprague Street. Both sites, which are accessible to the largely minority communities near them, were added to the new compromise plan that passed unanimously.

“I think we’re sort of thumbing our nose up at this Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals decision if we don’t put something in East Winston,” said El-Amin, referring to St. Paul, which the standing-room only crowd applauded.

The new plan adds seven days onto early voting, which will start Oct. 20. During that time, the BOE office will be open for early voting from 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. on weekdays and 10 a.m.- 4:30 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 22. On Oct. 27 all 17 sites will be open during the hours in the plan passed last month.

El-Amin briefly brought up Sunday voting, when the popular Souls to the Polls event was held by black churches. Russell refused the idea and El-Amin went with the compromise they’d worked on. El-Amin said that he believed more voters will come out on Saturdays than on a Sunday and hoped churches would work to get their congregants to vote regardless.

El-Amin said he voted for the compromise plan under the condition that the board takes up moving the election day polling place for Precinct 405 from Sims Community Center to the Anderson Center at WSSU.

The Anderson Center had a long history of being an early voting site. It has not been used for early voting since the Republicans became a majority on the board in 2013 and has become a point of contention. El-Amin voted against the original early voting plan because it lacked WSSU and planned to appeal to the State BOE. The last several meetings’ public comment sessions have been filled with people of all ages, backgrounds and ethnicities asking for early voting to return to the historically black university.

Joshua Canzona, an instructor at Wake Forest University, told the BOE last week that removing the site was a mistake.

“We should do everything in our power to increase the bonds between our universities and the city,” he said. “So to flagrantly remove one of those bonds was bad for the school and bad for the city. And I think we should do the right thing and put that polling place back where it was.”

WSSU was also one of the sites that former Democratic Party Chair Susan Campbell asked for.

“Even Guilford County has successfully used their colleges for voting locations and it’s time for us to do it,” she said, referring to Guilford BOE adding several colleges to their early voting plan last week.

While most commenters did want an early voting site at WSSU, Linda Petrou said she opposed it because of “problems” there in the past. She also disagreed with the appeals court ruling, saying voter suppression was not occurring.

“Votes were not suppressed two years ago, there was a larger turnout than there has ever been,” said Petrou.

During the comment session, current Democratic Chair Eric Ellison said that if the BOE didn’t make changes to make its plan more equitable, the matter would be taken to court. While WSSU did not a get a site, other things voters repeatedly asked for were included, like more sites in heavily populated, minority communities and more Saturday hours to help working people vote. Ellison said afterwards he supported the compromise. Ellison said he’d continue advocating for WSSU as a site in November.

El-Amin said that making the WSSU Anderson Center the polling site for its precinct will solve issues with the Sims Center. Construction on U.S. 52 is currently making it more difficult for many to get to Sims. After the meeting, BOE Chair Ken Raymond said he believed that El-Amin was talking about moving the precinct for a future election because he thought that it would be too confusing for voters to move it now. The BOE is scheduled to discuss the matter in its next meet-ing.

Along with changes in early voting, the appeals court ruling also means that voters will not need to show ID to vote. It also ensures same day registration and out-of-precinct voting will continue after a previous injunction on the measures had expired in June. Pre-registration for 16 and 17 year olds is also back and the BOE is already receiving forms from teens, which will make them automatically eligible to vote when they turn 18. The voter ID case is being appealed to the Supreme Court, which could overturn the appeals court ruling.

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Todd Luck

Todd Luck

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