A majority of the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement voted Tuesday afternoon to extend voting hours in one Gaston County polling place and one Columbus county polling place after they reported Election Day disturbances.
The three Republican members of the Board, Stacy Clyde Eggers IV, John Randolph Hemphill and John Malachi Lewis voted against the extensions.
The Gaston County Board of Elections unanimously requested a 20-minute extension to voting hours after a fire alarm went off at the precinct at Ashbrook High School. Voting at that location was suspended from 11:20 to 11:40 a.m.
No voters left during that time and none were turned away, according to correspondence from Adam Ragan, Director of Gaston County elections. There were 16 voters inside at the time the fire alarm went off and about eight or nine showed up afterward.
Eggers said he applauded the county board of elections for coming to a unanimous decision in requesting the voting hours extension, but he did not support it because no voters were affected by the disturbance.
The Democratic members of the State Board – Chairman Andy Penry, Joshua Malcolm, Valerie Johnson and Stella Anderson – as well as unaffiliated member Damon Circosta voted for the extension.
They also voted for an extension at the South Williams precinct in Columbus County by an hour and 20 minutes. That location reported to the State Board that they did not have one of three ballot styles at the time the polling place opened at 6:30 a.m., and they did not have it until 8:20 a.m.
The Columbus County Board of Elections unanimously requested a two-hour voting extension, though the maximum allowable time for an extension is however long the disturbance was.
Eggers again expressed his opposition and said he would be more inclined to support only a one-hour extension or an extension that only applied to those voters casting the ballot style that was unavailable.
Circosta responded to him that it did not matter to him whether one voter or zero voters were affected when voting was unavailable for 110 minutes.
Eggers and his Republican colleagues voted against the extension, but it still passed.
There was also a voting extension request of 10 minutes at a Richmond County polling place, but only voting extensions in excess of 15 minutes are permitted, so it was not approved. There was also a 15-minute voting disturbance reported in Rowan County but the county board there did not request an extension.
Finally, Penry requested more information about reports he had seen that humidity was affecting some precinct voting tabulators.
Executive Director Kim Westbrook Strach said that there were several precincts reporting that the humidity was affecting the tabulation of some ballots, which were put in an emergency bin. Election administrators, through a public process, will tabulate those ballots correctly at the end of the night, she said.
Malcolm encouraged Strach to recommend election directors to inform the public of that process and she agreed she would after the meeting.
“I think it’s very important for the public see that happen and it be explained to the public,” he said.
Here are the two polling places with extended voting hours:
- Closes at 7:50 p.m. – Ashbrook High School, 2222 S New Hope Road, Gastonia, NC 28054
- Closes at 9:20 p.m. – South Williams-Tabor City Courthouse, 110 W Fourth Street, Tabor City, NC, 28463