10/26/08 — Thousands line up to cast votes early

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Thousands line up to cast votes early

By Steve Herring
Published in News on October 26, 2008 2:00 AM


With nearly 15,000 ballots already cast, voters have turned out in record numbers to make their choices early. The wait at the Wayne County Public Library was more than an hour at some points on Saturday.

If one-stop voting is any indication, Wayne County appears well on its way to a record-breaking voter turnout.

One-stop voting began Oct. 16 and as of close of voting Friday, 14,938 people had cast ballots, putting the county on target for about a 60 percent voter turnout for the Nov. 4. election, about half of whom will vote one-stop.

"We are looking for 27,000 (one-stop votes) if we can get it and we are about halfway there," said Board of Elections Director Vickie Reed.

As of Friday, 9,042 Democrats had voted; 4,243 Republicans; 1,648 unaffiliated; and five Libertarians.

For the most part, the voting has gone smoothly, she said.

The bulk of the voting has been at the library where the numbers have averaged about 1,100 voters per day. Those numbers are expected to increase as the Nov. 1 deadline nears for one-stop voting.

"There's always a crush during the last week when people seem to remember that they have not voted and say, 'oh, one-stop is open,'" she said. "So we like to get the message out."

"All in all the voters appear pleased with the voting procedure, so we are doing our job," she said.

Ms. Reed said that all judges, even on Election Day, are given notebooks in which they can note anything that it is unusual or that they want to note.

"We review the notebooks," she said. "We go over where there might have been problems, what worked out well. A staff meeting is held to go over procedures."

Poll workers also have a sheet in their books for any suggestions they might have.

However, the one-stop sites have not been without their share of difficulty. There have been reports of aggressive campaign workers blocking driveways and badgering people at the library site on East Ash Street.

The Board of Elections has hired an off-duty officer for the weekends and has added two curbside assistants at the library.

Campaign workers were "learning their boundaries" during the initial days of one-stop voting, Ms. Reed said. The curbside assistants are there to help the campaigners remember what they learned, she said.

All campaign workers are supposed to remain outside a 50-foot buffer area around all polling locations. Those buffers are clearly marked, she said.

"We ask people to abide by the law and follow instruction," she said. We have had congestion at the library I know (library director) Jane (Rustin) has talked to the campaigners out there because that is the public library's parking lot.

"They (campaign workers) are quite aggressive this time, but everybody has a passion. They are allowed to do that outside the 50-foot buffer zone. I have no control outside that zone. My concern is to make sure this election is conducted fairly and I want it to run smoothly. I want everybody's rights to be maintained and be respected and I do hope they would do that.

"But we do have the authority to call on local law enforcement if there is something going on that is interfering with the voters' rights to enter our voting enclosure. We take complaints on that, and we have had complaints. I think it has gotten a little better, but we have to work together with local authorities."

Other than an incident of someone selling items for a candidate and some breaking in line, there are have been no reports of serious problems, police said. The person selling the items was told that was not permissible and told either to give the items away or to stop altogether.

"They (campaign workers) are blocking traffic," said James Cobb of Goldsboro. "They are getting in front of cars trying to stop them and hand out literature."

Cobb said he and his wife were at the library last week, but decided not to vote there because of the line. They did vote at the Woodmen of the World site.

He said one campaign worker "got in my face" and was reaching toward him as if to place something in his shirt pocket. Cobb said he used his "Marine command sergeant voice" to halt the campaigner.

"I talked with some people who went to the library to vote, but left before voting because of the campaign workers," he said.

Cobb said that while at the library he had witnessed Ms. Rustin asking campaign workers to stay out of the driveways.

"But as soon as she walks off they are back in the middle of the driveway," Cobb said. "It is not so much what they (campaign workers) say as the way they say it. I must give credit to the others who are staying where they were told to stay and that is the way it should be."

Cobb said he has spoken to Ms. Rustin and local and state Board of Elections officials and has shown photos of the disruptive campaign workers to the officials.

Meanwhile, at the Dudley Fire Station, at least one voter became upset when he was denied permission to use the station's restroom.

Ms. Reed said she heard a radio report that a veteran complained he had been refused access to a restroom at the fire station.

That, she said, was the responsibility of the Board of Elections, not the fire department.

"Once we move into a building, it becomes a voting enclosure," Ms. Reed said. "Voting enclosures have very specific rules under North Carolina General Statutes. In addition, when that voting enclosure opens only certain people are allowed into it. We are there to maintain North Carolina state law."

The county has five one-stop locations. The three primary sites are Wayne County Public Library, 1001 E. Ash St., Dudley Fire Station, 4533 U.S. 117 Alt. South at Dudley and the Woodmen of the World building, 3733 U.S. 117 North. Those locations are open Monday and Tuesday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Wednesday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 1 to 5 p.m.

Two satellite sites opened Saturday at Fremont Town Hall, 120 E. Main St., Fremont, and the Johnston Ambulance Service office at 2803 U.S. 70 West. The two sites will be open from 1 to 5 p.m. through Friday, Oct. 31.

Saturday, Nov. 1, is the final day for one-stop voting, and all five sites will be open from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Each location has an area set aside where people may register and vote on the same day. To do so, people must have a photo identification that has their correct address. Lacking that, a bill, such as a utility bill with the address, may be used.