Early voting enters new phase
North Carolina’s ongoing experiment with early voting probably will never receive as much attention as when voters go to polling booths later this month and again this fall.
Launched 14 years ago when Democrats controlled the N.C. General Assembly and the governor’s office, early voting this year will undergo its first major revisions under Republican oversight of state government. The GOP-controlled General Assembly and Republican Gov. Pat McCrory are instituting changes that will shorten the duration of the early voting period by a week. Also, citizens who aren’t registered to vote no longer will have the option of showing up during early voting to register and vote on the same day. The deadline to register to vote in the May 6 primary — and during the early voting period leading up to the primary — passed last Friday.
Early voting, known formally as one-stop absentee voting, begins April 24 and concludes May 3. In Guilford County, voters can cast ballots at eight early voting locations, including the two in High Point at Washington Terrace Park on Gordon Street and at Oak Hollow Mall.
Randolph County will have four early voting locations, including one for the northern part of the county at the Randolph Community Services Building on Balfour Drive. Davidson County will have five polling places for early voting, including the Thomasville Public Library on Randolph Street and the Midway Fire Department on Midway School Road.
While the early voting period will be shortened by a week, the number of total hours for early voting in the majority of North Carolina counties will remain the same as two years ago. County boards of elections are accomplishing that by opening satellite early voting locations earlier. In the past, during the first week or so of early voting, only Board of Elections offices would open before additional locations were brought on line.
Democrats who ushered in early voting said it would make casting a ballot more convenient by extending the voting schedule and lessening the crush at the polls on Election Day itself. But when Democrats started early voting in the 2000 election season, Republicans expressed skepticism, saying early voting was a back door way to boost the chance of Democratic candidates in a state that at the time had a huge voter registration advantage for the Democratic Party.
Seven years ago, the Democrats in control of state government upped the early voting ante by launching same-day registration and voting, meaning that anyone who wasn’t registered could show up during the early voting period, register and cast a ballot in the primary or general election.
But the fate of early voting shifted with the last two election cycles. In 2010, Republicans stormed to control of both chambers of the General Assembly for the first time in more than a century. Then McCrory, who grew up in Jamestown, became the first Republican North Carolina governor in 20 years when he defeated former Democratic Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton in the 2012 general election.
Last year, McCrory and Republicans in the General Assembly passed sweeping changes of voting laws, which includes a controversial plan to start requiring a photo ID to vote in 2016. The early voting changes take effect with the primary and fall general election this year.
The voting changes have drawn national attention to North Carolina, with critics contending that Republicans are attempting to suppress the vote and make casting a ballot more difficult for groups more likely to support Democrats, such as minority and poor voters and students. Conservatives deny the accusations, saying the changes preserve the integrity of the voting process while still providing ample opportunity to cast a ballot.
“The changes we’re making in early voting have been called restrictive by liberals and the news media. That’s not true,” McCrory said this past August. “When our reforms are fully implemented, North Carolina will remain a national leader in ballot access, a fact you might find surprising given the hypocritical national reporting.”
Moves by Republicans in areas such as early voting have inspired the Moral Monday movement across North Carolina, which has now extended in other states. The Moral Monday protests, begun at the State Legislative Building in Raleigh last year, include criticism about how voting changes will lessen the chance of many North Carolinians to exercise a basic right of citizenship.
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Where to early vote in High Point
When early voting for the primary begins April 24, High Point voters will have two familiar locations to cast ballots. Early voting in the city will take place through May 3 at Washington Terrace Park on Gordon Street and Oak Hollow Mall, which have been previous locations for early voting.
Races on the ballot will include:
• Republican and Democratic primaries for the U.S. Senate, 6th Congressional District and 12th Congressional District
• Primaries in both parties for several area state legislative races
• Republican primaries in Davidson and Randolph counties for sheriff and Democratic primary in Guilford County for sheriff
• Republican primaries in Davidson and Randolph counties for seats on Board of Commissioners and Democratic primary in Guilford County District 1 Board of Commissioners race
For more information, contact your local board of elections office:
Guilford County Board of Elections offices in Greensboro at 641-3836 or High Point at 641-7895; website www.co.guilford.nc.us/elections_cms/
Randolph County, 318-6900; website www.co.randolph.nc.us/elections/
Davidson County, 242-2190; website www.votedavidsoncountync.com/