Changes in place for Nov. 8 general election

By Chrysta Carroll -

ELIZABETHTOWN — As America gears up for what could be a record general election, North Carolina voters will notice several changes to this year’s process, at least some of which are the result of voters’ demands for access to this year’s hot ticket.

This year’s primary in March was the first time voters in North Carolina were required to show identification to vote. While supporters touted the change as common sense, detractors labeled the move discriminatory and fought for unrestrained access to voting privileges. On July 29, the nay-sayers prevailed, when a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit struck down the law. In August, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to put the Fourth Circuit order on hold, meaning voters will not have to show identification to vote.

“I never thought they’d take it away once they started it,” stated Bladen County Board of Elections Director Cynthia Shaw. “It was great — and this is from the director of the Board of Elections — the voter ID was a good thing. It helped the poll workers with polling and helped the election go much more smoothly. You’ve got dates of birth, spelling of names, twins, juniors, and seniors, and it was really very helpful to the workers to make sure they had the right person.”

The issue is currently under appeal, but no change is expected to impact the upcoming election. Some voters, such as those newly registered, may still be required to show an ID, but such was the case prior to the law.

In another fight for access to voting, constituents around the state are battling over how many and which days they will be allowed to vote. The same law that required identification to vote also decreased the number of days for early voting from 17 to 10. When it was struck down, the time returned to the previously mandated 17 days.

Supporters of more access aren’t happy, however, with just increasing the number of days — they also want those 17 days to include every day of the week. Battles in Wake County and Lenoir County sought to institute or re-institute Sunday voting, and this year, 23 districts have adopted the measure after nine districts opted to discontinue the practice.

Bladen County’s 17 days run from Thursday, Oct 20, until Saturday, Nov. 5, with polls closed on Sundays. Shaw said in making the schedule, the board looks at voting history and demographics to determine which days and times would encourage the greatest number of voters. The schedule approved by the State Board of Elections raises the number of polling hours in Bladen County from 298.5 in the 2012 presidential election to 314 hours this time around.

With increased hours spread out over more days, absentee ballots — which the board began last Friday by mailing 340— early voting, and election day, Shaw sees little room for complaint.

“With an election cycle almost two months long, there’s no reason the opportunity’s not available to vote in that time frame,” she said.

Despite extended hours and days, the Board of Elections is bracing for an impact. The ballot will contain one of the narrowest and nastiest presidential races in history and, locally, a quarter-cent sales tax referendum that has drawn sharp opinions. As always, a win in the county commissioner race can alter the course of the county. Those three items, combined with the state-wide elimination of straight-ticket voting, as well as confusion about voter ID and recently-redrawn district lines, may mean longer-than-normal lines at the polls.

“It’s going to be a big election,” Shaw said. “Hopefully, with extra poll workers and equipment, we here in Bladen County will be able to control lines. Voters just have to be prepared.”

The following is the schedule for Bladen County early voting:

Bladen County Public Library

— Monday – Friday, Oct. 20-21, Oct. 24-28, Oct. 31-Nov. 4: 8:30 a.m. – 5 p.m.

— Saturday, Oct. 29 and Nov. 5: 9 a.m. – 1 p.m.

Lions Club in Dublin, Historical Building in Bladenboro, East Arcadia Town Hall in Riegelwood

— Monday – Friday, Oct. 20-21, Oct. 24-28, Oct. 31-Nov. 5: 2 -7 p.m.

— Saturday, Oct. 29 and Nov. 5: 9 a.m. – 1 p.m.

The Bladen County Board of Elections’ web site has many helpful tools, including district maps linked to sample ballots, so users can determine which districts they are in and preview the ballot they will be using, a full schedule of early voting, and a link for requesting absentee ballots. On-site registration is possible during early voting, but not on election day.

Chrysta Carroll can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.

By Chrysta Carroll

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