02/16/05 — Early voting will gain in popularity, says state election board official

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Early voting will gain in popularity, says state election board official

By News-Argus Staff
Published in News on February 16, 2005 2:12 PM

Election precincts will become less important and more voters will cast ballots ahead of Election Day, says the executive director of the state Board of Elections.

Gary Bartlett spoke Tuesday to the Goldsboro Rotary Club.

Bartlett said that changes in election law has prompted more and more people to take advantage early voting.

"In time, more than 50 percent of voters will go to the polls before Election Day," Bartlett said. Of the 3.5 million North Carolinians who went to the polls in November, 1.1 million voted early, he pointed out.

"Precincts will diminish in importance as the decade gets older," Bartlett said. He said he expects counties to open more locations where people can cast their ballots ahead of time.

"Counties can have as many as they want," he said. "It's a matter of money."

Wayne County had three places this past year for people to cast ballots early -- the Public Library and the Belfast and Dudley fire departments.

Bartlett answered questions from club members about the current controversy regarding contested statewide elections. In the race for state agriculture commission, Democrat Britt Cobb recently conceded to Republican Steve Troxler after discrepancies in vote tallies surfaced in Carteret County. The same problem has not yet been resolved in the race for state School Superintendent.

The issue is being addressed by both the General Assembly and the state courts.

"We have a tug of war between the Supreme Court and the General Assembly," Bartlett said, "and we're the ping-pong."

Bartlett, who lives in Goldsboro, said legislation is being introduced in the General Assembly to improve voting equipment. He said the Carteret County problem arose when a computer programmer made a mistake in setting up a voting machine, leading to a malfunction on Election Day.

He said the state board is seeking the authority to purchase voting equipment, a responsibility currently held by the counties.

A bill under consideration in the General Assembly would require a paper trail so that election officials can double-check how votes were cast. Bartlett said that another proposal would place cameras inside the voting booths to help officials if they need to review a particular race.

When club members questioned whether that would violate the privacy of the balloting process, Bartlett explained that the camera would not be linked to the voting machine and that it would not record the voters' face, only the way the ballot was cast.

People who cast ballots early would have their ballots recorded in this way to allow election officials to more easily review those votes in a contested election, he said.

"If you vote absentee, you sort of give up some of those security rights," Bartlett said. But he reminded club members that even if a voter's ballot is reviewed in that manner, that his or her privacy would still be maintained. It is a felony for an election worker to reveal how someone voted, he said.