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By Peter Vankevich
Ocracoke will have two days of early/one-stop voting this fall, but it almost didn’t.
The Hyde County Board of Elections on June 19 set Ocracoke’s early one-stop voting dates for the Nov. 6 election, which will be from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 25, and Friday, Oct. 26.
Early voting at the Elections Office in Swan Quarter is being offered 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. for the full 17 day period beginning Oct. 18 and 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on the last Saturday, Nov. 3.
Due to some late legislative maneuvers by the state’s General Assembly in its short session, setting these dates wasn’t easy for Hyde as well as all the other counties in the state who were required to file their early voting plans by July 20,
In June, the General Assembly in Senate Bill 325 mandated that all early voting precincts must have 17 days of open voting from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. up until the Friday before the election.
The mandated 17 days of twelve-hour voting hours is creating financial and staffing problems for many of the state’s counties. It could have been a problem for Hyde County even though Ocracoke is the only early voting site besides the Elections Office, since the county is facing financial challenges this year. Hyde County Election Office Director Viola Williams noted that complying with the 17-day twelve-hour opening requirement would cost the county approximately $4,000.
Traditionally, Ocracoke has had only two early voting days prior to the election day.
After a veto of SB 325 by Gov. Roy Cooper, due primarily to the removal of the Saturday before the election option, the Assembly overrode the veto. Then legislators heard a spate of complaints about eliminating the option of voting on the last Saturday before the election.
According to news sources, the hardship to Ocracoke was specifically cited in numerous emails that flew around Raleigh as this issue was being debated before the short legislative session ended.
Subsequently, a new bill by the House, HB 335, restored the last Saturday for early voting, and Ocracoke, though not specifically named, was exempted from the mandatory 17-day period. The General Assembly passed it and Cooper signed it on July 9
It’s hard to find humor in legislation, but many got a chuckle out of how Ocracoke was exempted without specifically being mentioned.
In this new law, a provision allows flexibility in the mandated early voting hours for a county if:
(1) It has permanent inhabitation of residents residing in an unincorporated area.
(2) It is bounded on the east by the Atlantic Ocean and on the west by a coastal sound.
(3) It contains either a National Wildlife Refuge or a portion of a National Seashore.
(4) It has no bridge access to the mainland of the county and is only accessible by marine vessel.
Director Williams told the Hyde County commissioners in July that under SB 335, the cost of having two twelve-hour early voting days, would have cost the county approximately $1,200 more. However, she said yesterday that later the State Board of Elections provided some clarifications and Hyde did not have to extend the voting hours so there will be no additional cost.
Ocracoke’s county commissioner, Tom Pahl, welcomed the good news but was curious why they just couldn’t mention Ocracoke. He also pointed out it was one more case that the state legislature passes laws that impose financial, if not other burdens, on the counties without regard to the effect it has on them and without funding.
Williams was quoted recently in the Raleigh News & Observer:
“But I really wish, before the bill had even been pushed through, that they would have gotten the opinions of the people who are directly involved,” she said. “The way things were done before, where the counties made the plans, was a better way to do it. Each county is going to make plans for what benefits their county the most, whereas when the state steps in, they try to benefit all counties. All counties are not the same.”
Prior to the May 8 primary, only 13 islanders voted during the two early voting days. But in the 2016 general election, 248 people voted during early voting. As of April, of this year, Ocracoke had 817 registered voters.
Unlike Election Day, early voting is a “one stop” period in which people can register to vote and vote on the same day.
For more details, see: https://www.ncsbe.gov/Voting-Options/One-Stop-Early-Voting