State elections board dictates Sunday early voting in Chatham

Posted 9/4/20

After the Chatham County Board of Election’s split vote in July on whether to allow early voting on Sundays, the state’s elections board made the final decision on Monday for the county — voting 3-2 to include Sundays.

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State elections board dictates Sunday early voting in Chatham

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RALEIGH — After the Chatham County Board of Election’s split vote in July on whether to allow early voting on Sundays, the state’s elections board made the final decision on Monday for the county — voting 3-2 to include Sundays.

Both the county and the state elections boards votes were along party lines, with Democrats favoring Sunday voting during the state-mandated early-voting period — which opens Oct. 15 — and Republicans opposing it.

Early voting and election day plans for each county require unanimous approval by their respective elections boards. If the vote is not unanimous, regulations mandate the plans must go to the state’s election board decide. But prior to the Chatham board’s 3-2 vote on July 21, an executive order from the state board’s executive director, Karen Brinson Bell, outlined additional mandates for voting during the COVID-19 pandemic. This included more and larger voting sites and additional weekend hours, encouraging Sunday voting.

During Monday’s meeting, both sides of the debate in Chatham were allowed to present their perspectives to the state board for it to deliberate.

Laura Hise, the Chatham County Elections Board chairperson, spoke first for the Democrat majority. Hise said Chatham County voters are “interested and engaged” in the political process, with the county often seated in the top 10 of counties for turnout — usually above 70%. In addition, she noted that Chatham voters are also ardent early voters, with between 60 and 70% of registered voters casting their votes during the early voting period.

Acknowledging that the county has never had Sunday voting before, Hise noted that the board had received requests to do so over her 13-year tenure as a member of the board. She also said that many of the new, younger poll workers were supportive of more weekend voting since many work during the week. Hise said the board had not heard objections about Sunday voting from poll workers or staff and in fact had received numerous calls of support for the measure.

Charles Ramos, a Republican, spoke for the minority plan, which extended Saturday hours but did not include Sunday hours. Ramos said that Sunday is a “day of rest for voters, election workers, staff and board members and is a ‘religious day for all concerned.’” Ramos also raised concerns about election worker fatigue, which he argued could leave to mistakes. He also said that because of the significant increase in absentee ballot requests — about 8,000, according to the Chatham County Board of Elections office — was already adding more work for the staff.

“(The county) used to have four sites; now it will have six county sites,” Ramos said. “This should help alleviate some of the folks and make it easier to vote. The time not really necessary for Sunday voting.”

State Elections Board Secretary and member Stella Anderson noted Hise’s “interested and engaged” voters in Chatham, saying that notion was “attested absolutely” by the number of comments by Chatham voters to the state board through its public portal for Monday’s meeting. She said it was “loud and clear” that residents wanted Sunday voting hours. Conversely, state board member Ken Raymond argued that the number of absentee ballot requests in the county and across the state should “mitigate the need” for Sunday voting.

In the end, the state board voted 3-2, again along partisan lines, to allow Chatham to move forward with an early voting plan that included Sunday voting. The plan will now return to the Chatham County Elections Board to vote to confirm — that meeting was to be held after press time — but that is merely a formality as the state’s decision stands.

The state’s election board meeting on Monday was held to mitigate similar voting issues in 19 counties. Many of the disagreements were about early voting on Sunday or the number of hours that were available to early vote. Early voting begins on Oct. 15 and runs through Oct. 31.

Casey Mann can be reached at CaseyMann@chathamnr.com.

For more election information

Chatham County Board of Elections

State Board of Elections website

Dates to know

  • Sept. 4: Absentee ballots start getting mailed out
  • Oct. 9: Voter registration deadline
  • Oct. 15: Early Voting begins, same day registration available
  • Oct. 31: Last day of early voting
  • Nov. 3: Election day; absentee ballot deadline at 5 p.m.

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