County eyes more flexible early voting schedule

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The New Hanover County Board of Elections will offer extended weekday and weekend hours at early voting sites during the 2014 general election.

The board discussed two scenarios that would offer more flexible hours at one-stop voting locations during a July 15 meeting.

Deborah Dicks Maxwell, president of the New Hanover County NAACP, was one of six people who spoke during the meeting to request early voting options that better accommodate work schedules.

Maxwell works in Brunswick County from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. She said she had to take time off to get to New Hanover County to vote during the primary election.

“I sincerely hope that you will look back at your schedule, see what Brunswick and others have done to make this more accessible to citizens who work, who have arduous work schedules or family schedules,” Maxwell said.

One-stop voting for the 2014 primary election took place April 24 to May 3. The Board of Elections office was open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays. Four additional locations were open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays. All five sites were open 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday.

Additional locations during the 2014 primary election were the New Hanover County Main and Northeast Regional libraries, Carolina Beach Town Hall and the New Hanover County Senior Resources Center.

The same five sites will be available during the general election. One-stop voting will take place Thursday, Oct. 23 to Saturday, Nov. 1.

Under the first scenario for the general election, the Board of Elections office would be open 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekdays, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on the first Saturday and 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on the last Saturday. Additional locations would be open 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on weekdays and the first Saturday and 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on the last Saturday.

State law requires early voting locations to close by 1 p.m. on the last day. It also requires that all one-stop sites offered in addition to the Board of Elections office must operate on the same schedule.

Marvin McFadyen, New Hanover County Board of Elections director, said that rule restricted options for later hours at additional sites.

“The additional four locations, they must be consistent with one another. That’s where we run into some of the complications with putting together the formula. If we wish to have extended hours at those locations, we would not be able to adhere to the nine days at the Board of Elections office,” McFadyen said.

Under the second scenario, the Board of Elections office would be open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekdays and the first Saturday and 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on the last Saturday. Additional locations would not be open on the first Thursday, Friday or Saturday but would be open 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. the following Monday through Friday and 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. the last Saturday.

Board member Tannis Nelson said she preferred option one because all five sites would be open on the same days.

“I know it’s difficult but I believe if we have these sites open, there should be some consistency in the hours,” Nelson said.

Board secretary Marlene Mitchell said she preferred the second option because it offered later hours at all locations.

The board agreed to further consider the options before voting on a scenario during the July 16 meeting.

After the meeting, Maxwell said either scenario would be better than the schedule offered during the primary election.

“It’s an improvement,” Maxwell said. “There are thousands of people in this area in the same boat I’m in. That’s why Brunswick and Pender adjusted their schedules, to make hours compatible for people who don’t work in the county. New Hanover needs to step up and do the same thing, and I’m glad to hear that they’re trying now,” Maxwell said.

The county’s implementation plan must be submitted to the state Board of Elections by July 30.

email miriah@luminanews.com

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