Lincoln County voters fight for hours at early voting sites

EARLYBy all accounts, the battle to keep an early voting site open at Appalachian State University has been a success.   Early voting there continues to be strong, with 2155 votes cast as of yesterday.

But other small victories in the war against voting rights have occurred elsewhere throughout the state.

Take Lincoln County, for example.

The board of elections for this mid-size county (population 79,000) near Charlotte unanimously approved an early voting plan that initially included three sites spread across the county, but reduced total hours offered from a required 320 to 219.

Consistent with its response to the many counties seeking a reduction of early voting hours, the State Board of Elections sent the plan back with the proviso that a reduction required additional hours added  outside of the regular work day to accommodate voters.

For Lincoln County, that meant adding hours to its site in Lincolnton, the county seat (state law requires satellite locations outside of the county board offices to have the same hours).

That didn’t sit well with the Lincoln County board.

“The majority of the board felt that this was a blatant attempt to impose a highly partisan plan,” Charles Newman, one of two Republicans on the three-person board, told the Lincoln Times in this article. “In order to comply with that plan, the only way we could have done it would be to extend the hours at the Lincolnton location, which would have been favorable to the Democratic Party.”

Coincidentally, Lincolnton has 13 percent of the county’s total population but 31 percent of its black voting age population.

(Source: Southern Coalition for Social Justice)

(Source: Southern Coalition for Social Justice)

So what did the county board do?

Instead of adding hours in Lincolnton, the board members cut them — from 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. to 11:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. — extended hours at the satellite locations, and sent the state board a nasty letter, in which they called state board member Maja Kricker “inept.”

As quoted in the Lincoln Times, the letter added this:

“The attached plan is submitted with some regret because in our county BOE’s opinion, the initial plan was submitted and subsequently rejected due to the self-indulgent view of (State Board of Elections member) Maja Kricker, (who believes) she knows more about what is best for Lincoln County than we, the County BOE members, who work, live and vote in Lincoln County.”

(In a phone interview, Kricker told the Lincoln Times that her guidelines were not politically motivated, but rather a way to increase voter turnout in Lincoln County by offering hours outside of the traditional workday.)

And though the state board took issue with the “disrespectful” response from Lincoln County, it approved the new plan with reduced hours by a vote of 4-1 in late August.

That left Lincolnton voters — unable to vote early there because of work commitments — hanging dry.

With early voting on the horizon, several of them filed a lawsuit on October 6 in Wake County Superior Court — seeking an order requiring the county and state boards to adopt a new plan.

And on October 14, 2014, the county board finally accommodated them with a new plan – now in effect — having hours from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on weekdays in Lincolnton (and on one Saturday 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.).

(It bears noting that despite the improved plan, Lincoln County is one of only two counties in the state that has no early voting site open past 5 p.m.  The other is Northampton.)

“We are pleased that in response to our lawsuit, the Lincoln County Board of Elections adopted a revised early-voting schedule that provides for the Lincolnton one-stop site to remain open during regular business hours throughout the early-voting period,” John O’Hale, an attorney representing the voters, said. “The voters who brought this lawsuit all have demanding work schedules—whether as a teacher, an emergency-services director, or a coach.  The Board’s revised schedule is a much-improved arrangement for all of the voters of Lincoln County, but especially for hard-working voters who need to use the Lincolnton one-stop site due to their jobs or family schedules.”

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