WSSU early voting point of contention for new BOE
Three men – two Republicans and one Democrat – took oaths last week to serve as members of the Forsyth County Board of Elections.
Fleming El-Amin, Ken Raymond and Stuart Russell each signed on to serve two year terms with the Board, which is responsible for conducting all elections held in Forsyth County and ensuring that state election laws are upheld.
All three are new to the board, which was previously comprised of Chairman Linda Sutton, Secretary Michael Flatow and member Jonathan Dills. Sutton, a Democrat who had served six years on the board, opened the July 16 meeting by welcoming the new members and guests before officially relinquishing her seat.
“It’s good to see you all here and excited and interested in your Board of Elections,” said Sutton, who also serves as a field organizer for the nonpartisan organization Democracy North Carolina. “I am so thrilled.”
The new board, whose majority is selected based on the party of the sitting governor, elected Republicans Raymond and Russell as chairman and secretary, respectively. As chair, Raymond, a 911 dispatcher and president of an educational organization, said the GOP-led board will focus on voter integrity and compliance with state laws.
“It’s important to maintain voter integrity. Voter integrity is vital to establishing freedom in this country and maintaing freedom in this country, so voters in this country can direct their own paths,” said Raymond, who has been involved in local politics for the past 18 years and had made several unsuccessful attempts to win elected positions. “I really do take it seriously to keep voter integrity in this process. That really is close to my heart.”
Russell, an attorney with Wilson Helms & Cartledge, LLP, also underscored the importance of ensuring that all voting sites countywide are in compliance with state laws and regulations.
El-Amin, a high school teacher who has been active in the local Democratic party for more than three decades, made the trek back from his family vacation in Emerald Isle to be present at the meeting. The grandfather of seven called for transparency and fairness on the board.
“Nothing on this board should be hidden or said under the shadows of the moment …they should all be broad daylight discussions,” El-Amin remarked. “Fairness is very important as well. We have to be fair across the board.”
El-Amin stressed the importance of ensuring easy access, especially for the most vulnerable portions of the population, in the placement of early voting sites.
“I hope I can get my fellow colleagues to see the need to have access to voting, especially for senior citizens. Locations are important, especially for them,” he said. “They’ve earned the right to have easy access to the polls.”
Director of Elections Rob Coffman briefed the new members on the rules and regulations that apply to them as members of the board, reminding them that the political activities of board members are “highly stifled.”
Among the new board’s first official duties will be choosing the locations for early voting sites. El-Amin believes that Winston-Salem State University, which turns out high numbers of young, black voters, is likely to be eliminated as as an early voting site this time around. Raymond, who worked as a precinct judge at WSSU’s Anderson Center in 2010, says he will definitely open discussion about doing away with the school as a voting site this year. As a precinct judge, Raymond said he repeatedly heard students making comments that he believes are cause for concern.
“Some of the students that came in and voted talked openly about receiving extra credit for voting. This isn’t something that someone told me … I heard it myself. They talked as if they didn’t know they were doing something wrong. But it is wrong – in fact it’s a felony,” Raymond said, adding that there were reports of WSSU faculty and staff using the campus email system to generate support for a specific party. “…Faculty and staff members should not use their position over their students to influence how they’ll vote. And they shouldn’t use campus resources – such as the email system – to turn out votes for one party.”
El-Amin dismissed claims of on-campus misconduct, calling them a “weak argument” for doing away with the site. He believes the board’s motivation for removing WSSU as a location has more to do with its left leaning populace than with any incidence of noncompliance.
“It doesn’t take too much of an imagination to understand who would be concerned about that,” he stated.
Raymond said early voting as a whole is “something that needs to be debated” because he believes it “opens us up to voter fraud.” He is opposed to same day registration for the same reason.
El-Amin said that he will work to ensure that board members champion initiatives that make sense for constituents countywide, regardless of party affiliation.
“I’ll be around and I’ll be pushing issues for the entire community, from the principle of what’s best for this community from an inclusive side, not an exclusive one,” he said. “…I’m going to use logic and data to support my position, and I hope that will win over some of my other board members for the common good.”
For more information about candidates, early voting or the Board of Elections, visit www.forsyth.cc/elections.