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WSSU eliminated as early voting debate continues

WSSU eliminated as early voting debate continues
July 12
05:00 2018

The Forsyth County Board of Elections (BOE) must decide on an early voting plan next week, but one site that definitely won’t be included is the Anderson Center at Winston-Salem State University.

That’s what BOE Chair Susan Campbell told attendees during the board’s meeting on Tuesday. Initial communications between the university and BOE staff indicated it wouldn’t be available on Saturday, Oct. 20, which is the day of Homecoming. But subsequent communication indicated that it wouldn’t be available for that entire week due to Homecoming activities.

In the past, Homecoming was not an issue for using the site, since only the BOE office was open for early voting during that week, with the other sites like WSSU opening at a later date. However, a new law from the Republican-majority General Assembly mandates that all sites must now be open every weekday from 7 a.m.-7 p.m. for the entire early voting period from Oct. 17 through Nov. 3. If a site is not available for even one weekday during that time, it cannot be used.

“We found out from the Anderson Center that they have a week’s worth of Homecoming activities. It sounded like it was not a preference for them to have this activity going on on campus, which is why we moved it down the road,” said Campbell.

Campbell, a Democrat, asked to have Anderson Center at WSSU as a site when the board began early voting discussion last month.  Anderson had been an early voting site from 2000-2012 until a Republican-majority BOE chaired by Ken Raymond stopped using it.

During public comments, eight people spoke in support of bringing early voting back to WSSU, including the university’s Student Government President William Gibson, who said the site was needed on a campus where many students don’t have vehicles.

“Students are disenfranchised and I, for one, will not stand for it,” said Gibson.

In previous years, dozens of residents have requested during BOE meetings for Anderson to be an early voting site. Two petitions in 2015 garnered more than 1,000 signatures asking for the site.

Campbell proposed using an off-campus site, W.R. Anderson Recreation Center on Reynolds Park Road, as an alternative. Other sites being considered are the BOE office, Kernersville VFW Post, Old Town Recreation Center, Miller Park Recreation Center, Brown-Douglas Recreation Center, the Mazie Woodruff Center and the Southside, Rural Hall, Clemmons and Lewisville libraries.

That’s a total of 11 sites, but BOE Vice Chair Stuart Russell, a Republican, was concerned the 12-hour shifts and the number of sites might create issues with being able to adequately staff them all.  BOE Member Robert Durrah, a Democrat, said he felt they should do 12 sites, since the county commissioners plan to approve enough money to cover that many.

The first two weekends of early voting are also in the air. For the third and final Saturday, it’s mandated for all sites to be open either 8 a.m.-1 p.m or 8 a.m.-5 p.m. BOE members liked having sites open on the second Saturday during early voting, but were unsure about what hours, which they’re allowed to set themselves. Campbell asked Russell if he’d be willing to have early voting on the first Saturday, too, if they did 10 sites, but Republican BOE Member John Loughridge Jr. said he didn’t like voting on that day, saying that he was concerned WSSU’s homecoming could interfere, though other board members felt it wouldn’t.

Russell and the other board members wanted more time to think about a compromise plan so they tabled it until their meeting next week on Tuesday, July 17, at 5 p.m. The deadline to turn in early voting plans to the state is now July 20. If the board, which is now evenly split between Republican and Democrats, cannot reach a unanimous consensus on a plan, then it will be decided by the State Board of Elections & Ethics Enforcement, which is also evenly split.

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Todd Luck

Todd Luck

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