NASHVILLE — The State Board of Elections will have to decide when early voting will be held in Nash County.
That is because the Nash County Board of Elections could not reach a unanimous vote on when the elections will be held. According to state law, local boards must make that decision unanimously or leave it up to the State Board of Elections to determine.
The controversy at the county elections board centers on the issue of Sunday voting. Democrats on the board want voting to take place on Sundays this year during the early voting period. Republicans on the board do not.
Several members of the public spoke out Wednesday at the board’s meeting opposing voting on Sundays. No members of the public spoke in favor of the idea.
“I have concern about Sunday voting during early voting,” Bruce Harris said during the public comments. “We are going through difficult times now and people will be manning those sites every day. You need to consider the people who will be manning those sites.”
Joe Price, pastor of Avalon Baptist Church in Rocky Mount, also spoke on the issue.
“I think Sunday should be set aside as time for worship and rest. I know everyone doesn’t agree with that, but I think most of the people in Nash County do. People will also have the option of using an absentee ballot, so we will not need Sunday voting,” he said.
Republicans on the board also want the Nash County schedule to align with the Edgecombe County schedule. This, they say, will ease confusion for residents of Rocky Mount and other municipalities that straddle the county line. The Edgecombe County Board of Elections already decided on an early voting schedule for the fall elections.
“Matching with Edgecombe County would cause less confusion and allow us to coordinate with them to advertise early voting,” board member Kevin Lewis said.
Democrats on the board say that decisions made by the Nash County Board of Elections have nothing to do with Edgecombe County and that coordination of schedules is not important.
“How ironic it is that when it comes to voting, we want to match Edgecombe County, but in every other thing Nash County approves of, it does not include Edgecombe County,” board member Dwight Jordan said. “We are Nash County. We don’t have to do what Edgecombe County does.”
Jordan also said that he felt Sunday voting allows more opportunities for voters to participate in the process.
“We are trying to provide safe opportunities for people to vote. We have people who work six days a week in these manufacturing plants here in Nash County. This does not give them an opportunity to come out and vote,” he said.
Democrats won in a 3 to 2 vote split cleanly along party lines during Wednesday’s elections board meeting. The split vote means that the decision no longer is in local hands.
Early voting in Edgecombe County will begin on Oct. 15 and end on Oct. 31. On weekdays during that period, voting will be held at early voting sites from 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., Edgecombe County Elections Director Jerry Spruell said. For the first two Saturdays of that period, voting will be held from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. On the third Saturday, Oct. 31, voting will be held from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. as prescribed by state law.
Democrats on the Nash County Board of Elections want early voting to take place during the same time period, as prescribed by law. Weekday voting would be the same as in Edgecombe County. But they want voting to run from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. each Saturday.
In addition, they want to open polls from noon to 3 p.m. on Sundays during that time period, making early voting accessible for all 17 days of the early voting cycle.
Mark Edwards, chairman of the Nash County Republican Party who was present at the meeting, released a statement Wednesday night expressing his disappointment with the board decision.
“Some things are more important than politics. Unfortunately, the Democrats showed us today that partisan politics control how they are going to run elections in Nash County,” Edwards said. “Nash County voters are so fortunate to have the best election staff in the state. It is very disappointing the Democrats decided to ignore the recommendation of our elections director.”
Edwards said that working with Edgecombe County to coordinate schedules makes sense.
“There is no reason why Nash County cannot coordinate voting with Edgecombe County as we have in the past. Democrats today have ensured there will be confusion about when early vote polls open in Edgecombe and Nash,” Edwards said. “The Republicans on the board really tried to work out a workable solution.”
Edwards said he is concerned about the effect that 17 consecutive days of voting will have on poll workers.
“Running elections is stressful. We always ask our poll workers to work long hours during early voting. Now, with polls open seven days a week, we are pushing our poll workers too much,” he said. “We invite problems at our early voting sites when we ask our staff to work 17 days straight, with no breaks, while they are also preparing for Election Day.”
The State Board of Elections is expected to vote on the issue at the end of August, Nash County Elections Director John Kearney said. Until then, plans for scheduling are on hold.