Elections head fights for more access in East Winston
The chair of the Forsyth County Board of Elections is still hoping that East Winston will have four early voting sites come October.
Democrat Linda Sutton was on the losing end of a 2-1 vote earlier this month when her fellow Board of Elections members, Jonathan Dills, a Republican, and Democrat Michael Flatow, gave the OK for 14 early voting sites throughout the county, the same number of sites available during the 2008 election.
The plan passed excludes one early voting site from 2008, the Malloy/Jordan East Winston Heritage Center on Seventh Street, and Sutton wants it added, so much so that she plans to submit an alternative early voting plan to the State Board of Elections in hopes of having the local vote essentially overruled.
“It is the one site that has the most densely populated (area) of registered voters where you have senior citizens at assisted living centers and handicap facilities and low income (residents), it has all of that,” Sutton said of the area surrounding the Malloy-Jordan library. “(It) needs more access than you need somewhere, like say, Clemmons … they’re not catching a bus to come downtown to a site.”
This will be the first time Sutton has filed a challenge with the State Board since she joined the Forsyth County Board of Elections in October 2006. Sutton said the move is not political. Though the Malloy/Jordan area is overwhelmingly Democratic, she said she is acting out of concern for voters whom she feels will lack access without the site.
“We’re supposed to be looking out for the majority of registered voters and giving them access,” she said. “I can’t help it if they’re Democrats, if it was the opposite, I would be fighting the same way because that’s my job as a member of the Board of Elections.”
The three-member Forsyth County Board of Elections charged county Elections Director Robert Coffman with preparing a list of early voting site recommendations. Initially, Coffman proposed just 12 sites because he feared more sites would spread Elections workers and equipment too thin.
His 12-site plan excluded both Malloy/Jordan and the Brown/Douglas Recreation Center on Indiana Avenue, another 2008 site. Coffman argued that the Brown/Douglas site was close enough to the Polo Park Recreation Center so that its exclusion would not inconvenience voters. Coffman said he did not include Malloy/Jordan because it was the most underutilized early voting site in 2008, drawing only 2,333 voters. He also argued that it was less than a mile from the early voting site at the Board of Election’s Chestnut Street headquarters.
The plan approved does include the Brown/Douglas, but Malloy/Jordan was replaced with the Old Town Recreation Center off Shattalon Drive to give early voting access to residents of Northwest Winston-Salem.
“We were looking at providing the best coverage around the county,” said Coffman.
Money would be a factor if Sutton succeeds in adding the Malloy/Jordan site, according to Coffman. In 2004 and 2008, the county received funds to help offer early voting from the Help America Vote Act, which supplies federal matching dollars. Those funds were not available this year. There are enough funds available to support the 14 sites that were approved, but not for 15, Coffman said.
More than 81,062 Forsyth County residents early voted in 2008. The Board of Elections site alone drew 21,919 voters. The most popular satellite location was the Carver School Road Library, which drew 7,259 voters. That site is moving next door this year to the Forsyth Technical Community College Mazie Woodruff Center. The other East Winston sites are the Winston-Salem State University Anderson Center, which drew 3,404 voters in 2008, and the Sedge Garden Recreation Center, which drew 3,071 voters four years ago.
Early voting in Forsyth County will begin on Oct. 18 at the Board of Elections and then at limited sites on Oct. 23. All 14 sites will be open from Oct. 29 – Nov. 3.
Early voting proved critical for Democrats in 2008, with then-candidate Barack Obama getting more local votes during early voting than on Election Day. Forsyth County Democratic Party Chair Susan Campbell said that there will be a big push again this year to get residents to the polls early. Democrats will work to inform people where they can vote and offer rides to the polls to those who need them.
“It’s like Election Day every day for two weeks,” Campbell said of the early voting window.
Campbell said early voting avoids problems that often arise on Election Day, such as confusion over precincts. It also allows those who aren’t registered to do so and then vote on the spot. Campbell said early voting is especially vital for those who don’t have cars, which is why she says she was “ extremely disappointed” that the Malloy/Jordan site was cut.
“In the inner city, you have more people living there (who) need to get to their polling places and don’t have the ease of transportation,” said Campbell. “It’s a hardship for some people to get the bus money to go to their polling sites.”
Minority access to voting has been a subject of national controversy this election year. Voter ID laws, voter registration purges, and restrictions on voter registration and early voting in other states have come under fire, with many accusing Republicans of working to disenfranchise minority voters, who tend to vote Democratic. A NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released last week showed President Obama leading among Latinos by a 2-to-1 margin over Republican Nominee Mitt Romney. The poll showed that the president had 94 percent support among African-Americans to Romney’s zero percent.