Elections board, NAACP spar over Triangle voting delays

Andrea Blanford Image
Wednesday, March 16, 2016
Voting delays
Board of Elections deals with the aftermath.

As minutes turned into hours well after polls closed in Durham on Election Day, impatience festered among voters still waiting in line to cast their ballot.

Michael Perry, Durham County Board of Elections director, said at three different precincts, about 200 people were still waiting in line when the polls closed at 7:30 p.m.


Perry said lower turnout than usual during early voting, led to about 50 percent of the electorate showing up on Primary Day. Regardless, he said all 57 precincts were prepared, every one of them over-staffed with two additional volunteers.

Still, there were hang ups at the help table at certain precincts where Perry said voter confusion over where to vote, which party ballot to vote, and not being registered to vote, led to people having to cast provisional ballots.

"If you go to your correct polling place, you vote a tabulated ballot, you get the correct ballot style, everything is smooth and easy," he said. "Voters need to kind of be involved in this process, take some responsibility, put a little effort into it ahead of time."

In Wake County, voter population has boomed by more than 44,000 voters since the 2012 presidential primary, yet officials have only added two new precincts.

At the Pullen Community Center where the majority of NC State students are registered to vote, the last ballot was cast about 11 p.m.

Gary Sims, Wake County Board of Elections Dir. said the large turnout was brought on by a series of circumstances. NCSU students were away on spring break during early voting, leading to more of them coming to the polls on Election Day. Student Government also organized a free bus service to drop students off at the polls throughout the day.

"Whenever a lot of people just show up at one time to vote, you're going to have lines," Sims said.

In a statement Wednesday, the Rev. William Barber, president of the NC NAACP, which filed a lawsuit in 2013 challenging the state's Voter ID law, blamed the new photo ID requirement for what he called 'electoral chaos' on Tuesday.

In a statement, the NC NAACP said, in part:

Yesterday, and during a condensed early voting period, voters attempting to participate in this year's North Carolina primary election confronted long lines and confusion at the polls. While early turnout surpassed recent records, voters had fewer days to cast a ballot due to the elimination of a week of early voting under the state's monster voter suppression law, H.B. 589. At congested polling sites, voters in Wake County confronted lines lasting hours as they waited to cast a ballot within the shortened period. Yesterday, voters at the First Alliance Church in Winston-Salem stood in lines over 1 hour and 45 mins. Durham voters at the Ivy Community Center waited in lines stretching the length of the exterior."

"The hurdles posed to voters yesterday are unacceptable in a democracy," Barber said Wednesday. "Elections should be free, fair and accessible to all eligible voters. Our work continues until that is a reality in North Carolina. We will carry on our efforts in the courts, in the streets and at the ballot box to tear down the barriers that stand in the way of our fundamental right to vote."

County elections officials who personally dropped by precincts late Tuesday night to educate voters as they waited in line said most of the problems were not related to photo ID.

Some in Durham are still waiting to cast their ballots at 11 p.m. at Durham East Regional Library.

"Some of these groups that are making statements, they were just telling people just go in and vote and don't worry about anything else, well we really, it is helpful for people to go to their correct precinct," Sims said. "You're on the books, we can process you quicker."

"That's what we're here for," said Perry about voter education. "I mean we get accused all the time of trying to disenfranchise people, that sort of thing. We want everybody to vote. We'll do everything we can to help people vote."

Barber said leaders "should be in the business of making it easier to vote, not harder. The right to vote should be constitutional, not confusing."

Jackie Hyland, State Board of Elections spokesperson, issued the following statement to ABC11 in response to Barber:

"More voters participated in yesterday's election than in any prior primary. Early voting was also a huge success. While we are carefully reviewing ways to shorten wait-times, we are proud of the work counties did to ensure voters' voices were heard at the polls.

For three years, the State Board of Elections has educated and assisted voters to prepare the state for voter ID. That effort was funded at about $1M/year and included mailings to every household, poll worker training, television ads, and targeted assistance to voters.

With more than 2,700 precincts across the state, data we have so far indicates our efforts surrounding voter ID were successful. Current data also indicates that two-thirds of those who voted provisional ballots did so for reasons unrelated to photo ID. We look forward to further improving voters' experience at the polls in June and November."

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