04/12/06 — Equipment, polling places ready for early voting

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Equipment, polling places ready for early voting

By Andrew Bell
Published in News on April 12, 2006 1:52 PM

Wayne County voters can begin casting early ballots Thursday in the May primary races.

All early one-stop voting will take place at the county Board of Elections office at 209 S. William St. Voting can start at 8 a.m. Thursday. The primary will be held May 2, with voting at all precincts in the county.

Early voting ends on April 29 with the polls open from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on that Saturday. Every other day, Monday through Friday until April 29, one-stop early voting will be open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

There are more than 63,000 registered voters in the county, with more than 32,000 Democratic and 21,000 Republican voters. The county also has more than 9,000 unaffiliated registered voters. Unaffiliated voters can cast ballots in either primary.

Voters during the one-stop early voting process and primary election will help determine candidates for county clerk of Superior Court, state House, associate justice of the state Supreme Court and two Court of Appeals seats. In Duplin County, voters will decide races for clerk of court, state House, seats on the school board and board of county commissioners. All early ballots in Duplin must be cast at the Board of Elections ofice at 160 Mallard St.

Wayne County Board of Elections Director Gary Sims said he and his staff have worked diligently over the past two weeks to ensure the election will go smoothly. The state ordered most counties to switch voting machines, and Wayne did not receive the new machines until the last week in March. Equipment has been arriving daily since, he said. Sims said election officials have put the balloting machines through rigorous practice to make sure there will be no malfunctions when voting begins.

"We are doing everything in our power to prove these machines won't break on Election Day. We are even doing more than the state recommends," Sims said.

Sims said staff members have been loading sample ballots upside down and crumpled to ensure the counter will read any ballot it is given.

"We are actually trying to break them in here. If they break here, then they will do it out there," Sims said.

Election officials also have been new voting machines that allow visually impaired voters or those who cannot read to cast ballots without help. The AutoMARK voting machines have proved reliable, he said. Voters can cast ballots on the machines by listening to the selections from a recording and choosing a candidate. Handicapped voters unable to touch the screen can use a sip/puff tube to make their selection.

Only a few weeks ago, Sims said he was unsure whether the county would receive all of the equipment in time for the election, but the situation has recently progressed dramatically, he said.

"It's like going from zero to 180 mph. We went from having nothing to having everything we needed," Sims said.

The Board of Elections has already conducted AutoMARK demos, with positive input from the visually impaired voters, Sims said. He said precinct officials should enjoy the new machines as much as the voters will.

"I have no doubt that the precinct officials will love this equipment. Everyone I've shown in the office has said they love it. If they didn't, I know they'd tell me," Sims said.

Precinct officials will hold more workshops next week to continue to prepare for the full primary in May. A second primary, if needed to decide any runoff races, would be held May 30.

Sims said equipment testing and testing results are open to the public. For more information on one-stop early voting or the primary, call the Board of Elections office at 731-1411.