Monday, April 14, 2008

The election begins when? Thursday?

Don't look now, but the election begins Thursday -- at least for early votes, and voter advocates such as Bob Hall of Democracy North Carolina are warning there may be long lines.
Here's what he said this afternoon:

Election Group Warns of Bottlenecks at Polls,
Urges Officials, Public to Prepare for Large Turnout

As interest in North Carolina’s presidential primary continues to build, a watchdog group is calling on state and local officials to beef up preparations for a surge of voters on May 6 and at the One-Stop Early Voting sites which open across the state this Thursday, April 17.



“It’s like preparing for a hurricane and a week-long rock concert at the same time,” said Bob Hall, executive director of the nonpartisan election reform organization, Democracy North Carolina. “Officials need to plan for every contingency, add extra personnel, anticipate where bottlenecks will happen, and keep educating the public about changes in conditions.”



On Friday, Democracy North Carolina sent a memo to the Mecklenburg County Board of Elections with a list of recommendations to alleviate the expected crush of voters in the Charlotte area. They ranged from opening Early Voting sites on Saturdays and Sundays to getting advance cooperation from college officials in order to process last-minute registrations from students. (See memo at end of release.)



“We’ve been making similar requests with our allies to boards in Greenville, Winston-Salem, Raleigh, Durham, and elsewhere,” Hall said. “You quickly see that every county board is different. Many are taking positive steps to prepare for a large turnout, but this election is so unusual it requires the focused attention of public officials at all levels.”



He noted that the State Board of Elections has provided local boards with well over $1 million in grants this spring, but he said more help is needed from public and private agencies.



“We urge county commissioners, public and private college administrators, state and local officials, civic and religious organizations, and the public to all take pro-active steps to make the primary election a meaningful experience, especially for first-time voters,” Hall said.



“We have 2.5 million missing voters – citizens who haven’t voted here in this century. This election could be the experience that turns them around. And the whole nation will be watching.”



Democracy North Carolina recommends:



** Voters should get prepared: They should learn when and where Early Voting sites are open and become familiar with the local ballot at www.2008ElectionConnection.com. Voters can also learn how to vote by mail with an absentee ballot at that website, or at www.sboe.state.nc.us. They can register in person (and vote) at the Early Voting site, until May 3, but will need to bring one of the IDs listed on the websites. They should learn about the candidates and remember to vote in the nonpartisan races at the end of the ballot.



** County commissioners should provide personnel to help local boards of election process the thousands of new voter registration forms and provide emergency resources to staff and expand the availability of Early Voting in the county. Election officials need strong support from local leaders.



** County boards of elections should add staff and equipment to Early Voting sites to process more voters quicker, add hours/days to existing sites, and add more sites. Counties with residential colleges should obtain electronic lists of students’ campus addresses to facilitate same-day registration and voting.



** College administrators should offer a good site on their campus as a polling place and should take the initiative to provide election officials with an electronic list of the addresses of on-campus students. They should also help students travel to Early Voting sites before the semester ends.



** State officials should continue to promote opening more local Early Voting sites with more hours and staff, particularly on or near campuses, closely monitor implementation, and provide additional resources. The Governor should offer emergency funds to the State Board of Elections to cover contingencies and supplementary grants to counties.



“The State Board staff and most county election officials are doing a great job,” said Hall, “but they need the support of political leaders to take the risk of adding capacity that may or may not be fully used. This is a unique opportunity to invigorate our democracy and showcase North Carolina’s positive leadership.”



* * * *



April 12, 2008



TO: Michael Dickerson, Mecklenburg County Board of Elections Director

Georgia Lewis, Chair, Mecklenburg County Board of Elections Michael Kolb, Member, Mecklenburg County Board of Elections Carol Williams, Member, Mecklenburg County Board of Elections



Dear Mr. Dickerson and Mecklenburg County Elections Board Members:



Democracy North Carolina is partnering with numerous non-partisan organizations throughout Mecklenburg County to educate the voting public and increase voter turnout this election year. In our recent conversations with people and organizations throughout the county, it’s apparent that there is much concern that the current One-Stop Early Voting schedule for the 2008 Primary Election could lead to frustration and confusion among some voters. Although we appreciate the fact that Mecklenburg County will have more early voting sites than ever before the week of April 28, there are concerns that the plan for the first week plus (April 17 – 25) of early voting is insufficient. This concern, along with others, is listed below. We believe that if these concerns are addressed, then all Mecklenburg County’s citizens will benefit, regardless of party affiliation.



Below are requested changes to the current Primary Election early voting plan. Please notify us of your responses to these requests.



1) Approve the opening of more early voting sites during the week of April 21 or, at the least, create a contingency plan to open more early voting sites the week of April 21 if demand calls for it. For example: Mecklenburg County BOE makes the call to open 4 or 5 other locations for the week of April 21.



2) Open at least five one-stop early voting locations on Saturday, April 26, 2008 from 9am-5pm and Sunday, April 27, from 1-5pm.



3) Extend the last Saturday of early voting on May 3 until 5:00PM. North Carolina statute 163-227.2 (B) states that during the last Saturday of early voting (May 3), early voting shall be available until at least 1:00pm, however, if a county Board sees fit, the availability of early voting may be extended until 5:00pm that day.



4) As suggested by the State Board of Elections, work with University/College officials to obtain campus housing databases that will allow students to provide student ID cards in order to meet voter identification requirements. This identification may be necessary either because of current HAVA laws or because they are utilizing North Carolina’s new same-day registration process. Also, make sure that early voting officials encourage students to enter their permanent mailing address (in addition to current campus residential address) on voter registration forms in order to insure that voter verification cards will not be returned due to incorrect addresses.



Of course, some of these modifications may need the approval of more funds from County Commissioners. We hope that the Mecklenburg County Commission will work with you to provide the funding needed to improve the one-stop early voting plan. Perhaps additional money is also available from the State Board of Elections to help offset additional costs of these requested changes.



Sincerely,



Adam Sotak, Organizing Director

Democracy North Carolina

704-277-8340 cell



Robert Dawkins, Community Organizer

Democracy North Carolina

704-957-3105 cell



cc: Mecklenburg County Commissioners

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