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Court ruling saves early voting in Pitt

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A Pitt County resident casts his ballot at an early voting site at the Center at Alice F. Keene Park on Thursday.

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Sunday, September 10, 2017

The state supreme court extricated the local electoral process from the legislative mire last week when it allowed short-handed county boards of elections to set early voting locations.

The two-member Pitt County Board of Elections held a special meeting on Thursday to approve a plan that will open multiple early voting sites for municipal elections between Oct. 19 and Nov. 4. The sites are vital in ensuring that residents have expanded opportunities to participate in the process of selecting our municipal leaders outside of voting on Election Day, which is Nov. 7.

Without the Sept. 1 ruling, voters likely would have been limited to a single early voting site at the Board of Elections office at the Pitt County Office Building at 1717 W. Fifth St. The site would have operated only during regular business hours, 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 8 a.m.-1 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 4.

The hours and location could have excluded thousands of voters. More than 4,000 people voted early in the 2015 municipal elections and more than 6,000 voted early in 2013. We expect interest in the 2017 election to be at a high level with many contested races, including the open contest for mayor in Greenville.

A strong democracy creates many opportunities to involve the electorate to ensure that its officials are accountable to the widest swath of citizens. Limiting registration and balloting reduces opportunities for citizens to exercise their voting rights. Legal wrangling almost weakened our local democracy.

An effort by the General Assembly to reform the State Board of Elections is under a challenge by Gov. Roy Cooper, holding up the appointment of new members to county elections boards. Boards in Pitt and nine other counties did not have enough members to form a quorum and therefore could not vote on early voting plans.

The Supreme Court wisely has allowed short-handed boards to go forward while the dispute between the legislature and the governor continues. Local boards can approve plans as long as the votes are unanimous.

Pitt County’s two board members met on Thursday, one day before a deadline to set the plan, with one of the members phoning in from St. Croix while Hurricane Irma passed over the area.

As a result, a voting site at Alice F. Keene Park, 4561 County Home Road will open Oct. 19. Four more sites will open Oct. 31: Pitt County Agricultural Center, 403 Government Circle; PATS Conference Room, County Office Building, 1717 W. Fifth St.; East Carolina University Willis Building, 300 E. First St.; and Winterville Fire Station Community Room, 2593 Railroad St..

The sites will be open weekdays from 9 a.m to 6 p.m. and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 4. Multiple locations and later hours will help make voting more accessible to people throughout the county. 

Residents also may register to vote during the one-stop process, which helps involve even more voters. Otherwise anyone who wants to participate must register by Oct. 13.

Ideally, the process would allow even greater opportunity for citizens’ to cast their ballots. But five early voting sites is five times better than one.

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