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NC Wrestles with Early Cutoff for Early Voting

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Tuesday, May 24, 2011   

HENDERSONVILLE, N.C. - The North Carolina Senate will soon decide how early "early voting" can be. The state House has passed its version of a bill to reduce the amount of time polling sites can be open before elections, by one week. Republican backers of the idea suggest it will save county governments money, but the people who administer the elections say it would actually cost more.

Bev Cunningham, director of the Henderson County Board of Elections in Hendersonville, says her elections staff would be much busier, for a shorter time period.

"I think if this passed, what we would have to see in Henderson County is probably more early voting sites to handle the number of voters that are accustomed to voting this way. They like being able to choose around their work schedule, or just schedule in general, to come vote."

The House vote on the bill was pretty much along party lines. Those who oppose shortening the early voting times are worried that it's part of a larger effort in the Legislature - including ending same-day registration, banning Sunday voting and mandating state-issued voter ID cards - that would make voting more difficult for some people.

More than 60 percent of the votes in the last presidential election were early votes in Guilford County, according to Board of Elections Director George Gilbert. He doesn't see the need to change a system that already has some flexibility built in and that voters seem to like.

"We gear our resources to the demand. And if it's a smaller election, we don't even open any additional sites - we just have voting there in the office and we're there anyway. It's not a problem, and it's not a money-saving issue."

The State Board of Elections director has said the popularity of early voting appears to be a matter of convenience, rather than political affiliation. The turnout numbers don't reflect an advantage for any party, instead showing a wide range of people who just prefer to vote early.


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