10/31/08 — Vans bringing voters to the polls

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Vans bringing voters to the polls

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on October 31, 2008 1:46 PM

No complaints have been filed with the Wayne County Board of Elections, but there have been concerns voiced in the community about vans and buses of voters being brought into the one-stop polling places.

However, said Vickie Reed, county elections director, there are no laws prohibiting that.

"We have had several busloads," she said. "But it is the usual traffic, I believe. We haven't had an extensive amount, just people interested in voting. It doesn't make any difference how they get there."

Most of the buses or vans in question have been coming from assisted-living facilities such as The Pines of Goldsboro, Sterling House of Goldsboro and White Oak Homes in Mount Olive.

And while those voters may sometimes need assistance casting their ballots, there also are no laws against that, Ms. Reed said.

"They can ask for assistance. We can't offer assistance. They have to ask us," Ms. Reed said.

She also said that family members or others can help voters, too, but only if the voter indicates that wish to the precinct officials him or herself -- and as long as that person if not affiliated with that voter's employer or union.

More importantly, Ms. Reed also explained that are no rules regarding the mental capabilities of registered voters -- the main complaint of those concerned with the busing in of voters.

"As long as you can state your name and address, you're qualified to vote," Ms. Reed said.

And, said officials at those three facilities, that's all they're trying to do -- make sure people who want to vote are given that opportunity.

At Sterling House, about half of the dozen residents who signed up to go to the polls actually cast ballots.

Of those who did not, several were not county residents and two men admitted that they "didn't know anything about the election," and declined to vote, said JoAnne Daniels, life enrichment coordinator.

She explained the trip to the Wayne County Public Library in Goldsboro came after one of the residents asked to go vote, and that they were assisted curbside by precinct officials.

"The ones who did vote were all excited," she said. "They said they were glad they were still able to do their civic duty."

It was the same story at The Pines and at White Oak.

At the Pines, marketing director Georgia Dees said they posted a sheet for residents to sign up to go to the Woodmen of the World location -- an opportunity about 15 took advantage of.

"Our residents, so many of them are independent even though they don't drive, so we just put it on the schedule for them to sign up for, and we may go again if somebody couldn't go that day," she said. "They were anxious to vote. They were waiting outside, ready to go."

And, emphasized William Battle, a qualified professional and spokesman at White Oak, when they take people to vote, they do not try to influence their choices.

"We educated them that it was their right to vote and we read them some basic information on each candidate (from their Web sites), but we did not indicate who they should vote for," he said about their van load of about 10 voters who were taken to the Dudley polling place. "A lot of them were already very knowledgeable."

But concerns about such facilities influencing their residents have cropped up in Lenoir County, where the staff at the Caswell Center was accused of taking residents to the polls and directing them how to vote.

As it turned out, however, said Lenoir County elections director Dana King, they were not.

Rather, it was another facility, Howell's Group Home, that created the controversy after a staff member tried to help the residents cast their ballots.

"State law says anyone who works for or is affiliated with a health care facility such as that cannot assist anyone who lives or stays at that facility when they're voting," Ms. King said, even though Ms. Reed pointed out that is not specifically said in the statute.

But, Ms. King continued, after that rule was explained, the residents returned and were allowed to cast their ballots with the help of precinct officials.

At the Caswell Center, explained director Beverly Vinson, of the 420 residents, only four are registered voters, and when they vote, they will likely do so with the help of their legal guardians.

"We are not currently, nor would we ever, exploit the individuals we serve by attempting to take away or manipulate any of their rights," Ms. Vinson said.