Early voting OK’d without WSSU

Early voting OK’d without WSSU
July 19
01:00 2018

After several twists and turns, the Forsyth County Board of Elections (BOE) approved a plan without the Anderson Center at Winston-Salem State University, which angered many attendees at its meeting on Tuesday.

Anderson had been an early voting site from 2000-2012 until a Republican-majority BOE stopped using it. Democrats on the now evenly split board proposed using the site. That was in doubt during last week’s meeting after WSSU told BOE staff it wouldn’t be available due to Homecoming activities during the first week of early voting. A new state law requires all sites to be open from 7 a.m.-7 p.m. every weekday during the entire early voting period. Any site that can’t do this can’t be used.

However, since then, WSSU found a way to reserve parking at the Anderson Center for early voting during that week and said the BOE could use it. Several people appealed for the site, including former Winston-Salem Alderman and State Rep. Larry Womble, who spoke from his wheelchair.

“It serves a purpose for people like me in my condition,” said Womble. “Also, it serves as a site for those students over there, also for the people in the neighborhood that are there.”

Students spoke as well.

Senior Jemma Johnson said between her full-time class load, band practice, her two jobs and two unpaid internships, she has little time to get to a voting site.

“And I don’t drive because I don’t have a car yet because I’m poor, so how do you expect me to get to a voting site?” said Johnson. “I work waitress jobs. Those are unscheduled hours that sometimes run late. I work all day sometimes and go to school, so I need to go to a voting site that’s accessible to me.”

Others spoke for more sites in general in East Winston, which has a large minority population. However, several speakers said they felt there were too many sites costing the taxpayers too much money. Only one speaker, James Knox, specifically spoke against WSSU.

“I feel real sorry for Winston-Salem State people, apparently they are, you know, real slow or something because … Salem College, Wake Forest University and the School of the Arts do not have early voting sites, so why do they feel they need to be one?”

His comment drew a loud, shocked reaction from students in the crowd. The on-campus voting was especially useful for WSSU students since freshman can’t park on campus, unlike other local campuses, where they do let freshmen have access to their vehicles.

After the comment session, the four-member BOE quickly elected officers to the board, which put Republican Stuart Russell as chairman and Democrat Susan Campbell as vice chairwoman and Democrat Robert Durrah as secretary. Then Democrats proposed two plans, one with 12 sites and one with 11 sites, both including WSSU. Both were voted down by Stuart and Republican BOE Member John Loughridge Jr.

Someone in the crowd yelled “Why?” each time, with Stuart responding that he felt the off-campus W.R. Anderson Recreation Center on Reynolds Park Road was better suited since, it’s a local government facility, it doesn’t have any conflicting activities like Homecoming and it wasn’t as close to other sites, letting them cover more territory. He also cited an email sent by WSSU staff that promoted Democratic candidates in 2010 and 2012.

The eight year-old indecent involved the interim vice chancellor of student affairs at WSSU – who regularly distributes emails from students, student groups, faculty and staff – mistakingly sending an email to students and staff promoting Democrats, which violates state law. She had received the email from a student and said she didn’t look at it before sending it.  The university immediately sent out an email telling students to ignore the erroneous message and even sent out an email promoting Republican candidates at the urging of the local GOP to try to rectify the mistake, though that was retracted too. The Democrat-majority BOE at the time elected to keep early voting there in 2010.

If the Forsyth BOE didn’t come to a unanimous vote, it would go to the also evenly split State BOE. In 2014, then Board Member Fleming El-Amin tried to appeal a plan with WSSU in it to the then Republican-majority State Board and failed. So the board’s two Democrats compromised on a plan that had 11 sites and two Saturdays but no WSSU. They had the money for 12 sites with three Saturdays, but Russell said they should hold some money in reserve in case it’s needed.

Russell told attendees, “These are not easy decisions” to which many shouted back “Yes, it is!”

He assured them that there were things in the plan that his fellow Republicans wouldn’t like, too.

“That’s the nature of a bipartisan plan, everyone is a little upset about it,” said Russell.

Campbell told attendees that they compromised because having the State Board decide the plan would’ve delayed all the needed preparations for early voting.

“Delaying the decision makes it more difficult for everybody to get the work done to make an efficient election,” said Campbell.

Many attendees were upset. Womble said he felt the board’s Democrats caved and that the State BOE would’ve sided with a plan with WSSU.

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Todd Luck

Todd Luck

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