05/07/12 — Wayne voters face array of ballots

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Wayne voters face array of ballots

By Steve Herring
Published in News on May 7, 2012 1:46 PM

Precincts carved up by redistricting that created new state legislative and congressional districts could be a confusing recipe for voters in Tuesday's primary election. But throw in 17-year-old voters and municipal elections postponed from last November and Wayne County voters face a flood of different ballot styles -- 141 to be exact.

The polls will be open Tuesday from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. However, approximately 11 percent of the county's some 71,000 registered voters, or 7,786 people, cast ballots during one-stop early voting that ended Saturday.

Wayne County Board of Elections Director Vickie Reed agrees there is always a chance of confusion, particularly with 141 ballots, but that the county has the training and procedures in place to minimize potential problems.

For example, when an authorization to vote form is printed out it contains the bar code for that ballot style that is assigned by the computer, she said. The bar code scanner is at the ballot issue station.

"The ballot issue person will scan the ballot and then they will scan the ATV and if those bar codes do not match our machine will let them know that," Ms. Reed said. "Then they have to go back and check those out, start over and give them the correct ballot. That cuts back on that issue.

"We do train our poll workers before every election as required by the state. We go over all of the equipment and we give them the importance of using that equipment and having it available, how to use and what steps are taken if a ballot comes up wrong when they scan. So we try to catch that right there at the ballot issue station."

Also, procedures are in place if someone receives an incorrect ballot, Ms. Reed said.

According to a study prepared by the nonpartisan election watchdog group Democracy North Carolina, Wayne County has 13 precincts split into multiple state House districts; 16 split into multiple state Senate districts; and two split into multiple congressional districts.

The county also has 28 precincts with new state House districts; 24 with new Senate districts; and 17 with new congressional districts.

Wayne ranked second behind Cumberland County in what the study calls a "Voter Confusion Index." Durham, Pitt and Pasquotank round out the top five counties with the most complex changes to their state legislative and Congressional districts lines.

More than twice as many precincts were split than in any previous North Carolina redistricting plan, according to the study.

"This time we do have an exceptionally large number of ballots styles," Ms. Reed said. " One of the reasons is because of the delayed municipal elections which, of course, puts different splits in there that we would not normally have.

"Plus we have a constitutional amendment on the ballot which means we have to have a separate ballot for 17-year-olds who are not allowed to vote on that. All of that makes our ballot styles go up."

The 17-year-olds can vote as long as they are 18 by Nov. 6, she said.

"They can vote on the partisan positions, but they cannot vote in Fremont and Mount Olive or on the constitutional amendment, so everywhere we would have a split in that section then we would have to have extra ballots for 17-year-olds," she said. "That is always an issue when we have a constitutional issue or referendum.

"They can vote on partisan offices, all of the presidential, all of the state offices and commissioners anything that they are running by party. They are allowed to vote on those because that decision is only to go on the November ballot when they will be 18 and can make a decision."

The county has 10 precincts that are split by U.S. congressional districts that it did not have before and 20 precincts that are split by North Carolina senate districts, she said. These congressional splits were not there during the last election and can be confusing, she said.

However, what Ms. Reed sees as even more confusing is trying to make the public aware of the municipal elections along with the regular primary -- something that can happen every 10 years because of redistricting.

"I can see where the public can be confused and that is why we try to get this information out there," she said. "We try to keep them apprised of everything that is going on here. We are working as closely as we can with any voters who call in for any information."