08/14/12 — State Board of Elections to be asked to review voting on Sunday option

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State Board of Elections to be asked to review voting on Sunday option

By Steve Herring
Published in News on August 14, 2012 1:46 PM

Wayne County Board of Elections Chairman Joe Lofton Monday afternoon he will ask the state to review the county's one-stop voting plan with an eye toward adding Sunday voting.

The local board recently approved by a 2-1 vote a one-stop plan that does not include Sundays. Lofton, a Democrat, supported the addition of Sunday, while Democrat Chris Gurley and Republican Hal Keck voted against the proposal. Supporters on both sides of the issue were allowed to speak at the meeting.

Gurley and Keck contend that later weekday voting hours and two Saturdays will provide people plenty of opportunities to vote. Also, both said they grew up during a time when certain things, including work, were not done on Sunday. Cost, they said, is a concern as well.

However, county Democratic Party leaders say opposition to Sunday voting is politically motivated and backed by the tea party-dominated Republican Party, not because of religion or cost-effectiveness, but to achieve its goal of defeating President Barack Obama.

The final decision on the plan could rest with the state.

"Essentially, if a three-member county board is unable to reach unanimity in favor of a one-stop plan, then a member or members may petition the state board," said Veronica Degraffenreid of the state Board of Elections. "The state board only reviews plans if it is petitioned to do so. The state board will make the final decision as to one-stop plans that are brought before it."

As it now stands, the county's one-stop voting ahead of the Nov. 6 election will be open later in the afternoon, include two Saturdays, and will run from Thursday, Oct. 18, through Saturday, Nov. 3, excluding Sundays.

The one-stop sites will be open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekdays and on Saturday, Oct. 27 and Nov. 3 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

One-stop locations will be:

* Wayne County Public Library, 1001 E. Ash St.

* First Congregational Church, 215 Sleepy Creek Road, Dudley

* Woodmen of the World Lodge 3733, U.S. 117 North, Goldsboro.

Fremont Town Hall and Johnston Ambulance Service on U.S. 70 West will serve as satellite locations that will be open during the final week of one stop, Oct. 29 through Nov. 3.

Lofton said he supported Sunday one stop because he felt everyone ought to have the opportunity to vote.

"That is my personal opinion," he said. "After the '08 election, there was some discussion about Sunday voting. But since that time, we had decided to bring that back up again and also to allow the voters the opportunity to express themselves. That is what we did (at the board meeting)."

Keck said he didn't believe Sundays should be used for political purposes.

"The board discussed this last year or the year before and we talked about Sunday voting," he said.

"We were actually unanimous at that time that at the next major election we would not have Sunday voting. I don't know why Joe Lofton decided to change his mind, but he did. But Chris and I still believe that Sunday voting is not appropriate."

Gurley said he had recommended extending the hours into the evening to better accommodate the county's working people, particularly those who work out of town.

"That is what I believe, and that is what I voted," Gurley said. "Nobody told me how to vote. I voted against it. I thought it was the right thing to do."

Lofton declined to paint the issue as partisan.

"I am not partisan," he said. "My particular role is to try and do what might be considered best for the voting public and getting the chance to vote, which is their democratic right. That is my stand."

The lack of Sunday voting is a switch from 2008 when the board unanimously supported one-stop voting on Sundays that was held on two Sundays, Oct. 19 and 26. Board members at that time were Lofton and Chairman Gene Riddle, a Democrat, and Bob Jackson, who currently serves as chairman of the Wayne County Republican Party.

Jackson said his vote four years ago had been a mistake made as a new member on the board who wanted to be "agreeable at the moment," and for the board to be unanimous in what it did.

"I just don't believe that it is necessary," he said. "I can tell you it is not cheap to have as many people that work the polls that work the polls and the dollars are not small. Every day that you add to that, it gets expensive."

Sunday voting was offered in 2008 with no problems and no big expense, said Stephanie Kornegay, chairman of the Wayne County Democratic Party.

"We were ready to compromise to only one Sunday," Ms. Kornegay said. "That is all we asked for. Democrats believe in working together for a better future for all Wayne County residents. In this case, in this meeting, there was no working together to make voting available to more people."

"The same small group of tea partiers that attend board of commissioners meetings without fail were in attendance (at the elections board meeting) and voiced their oppositions based on two reasons -- cost and religious reasons. They said we couldn't vote because they didn't want anyone to have to work on Sunday. There were just as many folks that spoke in support for several different reasons and many voiced the fact that they were also Christians. Sunday voting is just as cost effective as any other day."