Orange Board of Elections on early voting sites

Ed Harrison's picture

Jusr received this message from the director of the Orange County Board of Elections, regarding early voting sites in Chapel Hill -- 

From: Tracy Reams [mailto:treams@co.orange.nc.us]
Sent: Wednesday, June 29, 2011 3:54PM
To: Town Council
Cc: Ralph Karpinos
Subject: Town of Chapel Hill Election

Good afternoon. Please find attached information pertaining to the Town of Chapel Hill 2011 Municipal Election.  The Orange County Board of Elections will be meeting sometime in August to discuss one-stop voting sites for the 2011 Elections.  Since this is a Municipal Election, the towns have the authority to request the Orange County Board of Elections to establish one-stop early voting sites of their choice within the municipality at the expense of the municipality.  Traditionally the early voting site for the Town of Chapel Hill has been the Morehead Planetarium.  Due to budget constraints I wanted to provide another option that you may wish to consider. 

The Seymour Senior Center was established as an early voting site for the Primary and GeneralElections.  In 2010 voters voting at the Seymour Senior Center location cast the highest number of ballots than all of the other locations.  The difference in the sites is primarily the cost to obtain voter parking.  At the Morehead Planetarium we are charged for voter and precinct official parking.  Our cost to obtain the parking spaces for the 2010 General Election was approx $1,200.  There are no parking costs associated with the Seymour Senior Center.  I just wanted you to be aware of the additional cost for parking at the Morehead Planetarium.

I have already sent an email request to the Morehead Planetarium guests relations manager to inquire the availability of the Morehead Planetarium should you wish to continue to provide early voting at this site.  Of course, the Town of Chapel Hill has the authority to request any site and/or facility approved by the State Board of Elections of their choice and we will do our best to comply with your wishes.

Should you have any question, please do not hesitate to contact me by email or phone.  A hard copy of the attachments will be sent to the town by mail for signature. Thank you.

Tracy Reams, Director

Orange County Board of Elections

919-245-2351 

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40 Comments

This Cannot Happen

Moving the one-stop early voting site out to the Senior Center would prevent thousands of students from having reasonable access to voting sites. There is only one bus that goes out to the center (A route), which would require a 10 minute ride out to the center and another 30 minute ride back to campus, not counting the time spent waiting for the bus to swing back around after being dropped off (I live on Homestead, I know what I'm talking about).I perfectly understand that coming downtown to the Planetarium is not ideal for many of the voters inside the municipality, but the Council should consider that as residents of the Town of Chapel Hill, students are entitled to reasonable ease of access to polling locations. Hopefully the Council and the residents of Chapel Hill will understand that taking away this access would be a gross disservice to the students of our great university.Nathan Westmoreland President - UNC-CH Young Democrats 

Outrageous

This would disenfranchise thousands of UNC students who are not able to vote on Election Day given the remoteness of voting locations, not to mention that the campus is divided up into several different precincts. I understand that there is an increased cost associated with Morehead planetarium, but to remove it as a voting site is to tell the tens of thousands of students that they don’t matter and shouldn’t be included in the process. This feels like something the GOP held General Assembly would propose not Orange County Board of Elections. If you want this election to have any credibility with students Morehead MUST be an early vote location.
James Barrett's picture

not "thousands"

The # of people under 23 who voted using One Stop in the last municipal cycle is less than 300.  That's out of about 2,000 total One Stop votes.  Definitely more important to students than election day (about 200 votes is same demo), but also pretty pitiful considering total # of students.(my #s are approximate because I only have data on hand for school district residents, which means I miss Durham County CH voters)

I wasn't attempting to say

I wasn't attempting to say that thousands of students vote in the municipal election, but you need to understand the realities of voting on campus. On campus housing is divided into several different precincts with voting locations up to a mile or two off campus. For most of the undergraduate population who don't have cars this is a serious obstacle to voting. Therefore thousands of potential voters would be negatively affected. 

My Vote Still Counts

The 26th amendment to the U.S. Constitution sets the legal
voting age at 18. I only cite this basic historic fact because you seem to be
asserting that the lack of voter participation for those under 23 means that
they no longer deserve fair access to the polls. I am 20 years old and cast my
first ballot for Mark Kleinschmidt in the muncipal election of 2009 at Morehead
Planetarium during early voting. I will remind you that the overall turnout for
that election was less than 17% of all eligible Orange County voters. I voted
early again during the midterm election in 2010. Just in case you were
wondering I also voted in the 2010 Democratic primary and the runoff to the
primary as well. If Morehead Planetarium were no longer a voting site, students
who do not have a car would be unable to get to a polling place to vote. First
year students, who legally have the right to vote, are prohibited from having a
car on campus. If this proposal were to go into effect the incoming UNC Class
of 2015 would be disenfranchised, but according to your post, because students
don't make up a significant voting bloc this would be no loss. Individuals
between the ages of 20-24 make up the largest age demographic living in Chapel
Hill, to say that such a large portion of this town's residency do not matter
enough to have a meaningful opportunity to participate in the democratic
process is absurd, unjust, and students will not stand for it.

James Barrett's picture

I vote every year at Morehead too

I am in no way in favor of eliminating Morehead as a voting place.  All I'm saying is that your argument isn't helping your cause when you talk about "thousands" given the reality of students voting early -- 300.  Your passion is commendable, but won't by itself win you any arguments with the Town Council.   Which is another point -- I see on FB that you are asking YDs to call the BOE.  This isn't a BOE decision.   The letter above from the BOE was proposing an option to the Town Council, who will make the decision on this.You also don't win any points by attacking those who are merely trying to help just because they are critical of where you go off course.

This is not the first time

This is not the first time this issue has arisen in recent years. In the summer of 2007, UNC student leaders fought hard to ensure that their voting location would be protected and the decision not to move was widely heralded in the community and around campus (http://www.carrborocitizen.com/main/2007/08/02/early-voting-site-for-campus-in-limbo/)(http://www.carrborocitizen.com/main/2007/08/02/campus-needs-an-early-voting-site/).From the original post, and from these articles and others, it is my understanding that the town can request a location but that the BOE ultimately decides. As the situation evolves, I agree that it might become more effective to engage the council and/or Mayor Kleinschmidt but as the suggestion has originated with the BOE it seems good sense to go to them first.

Erin Crouse's picture

Just a reminder- the

Just a reminder- the director of the Board of Elections is in no way part of the decision-making process. That decision is, in the end, for the three-member Board of Elections. Given the new appointees' (Jim White and Jamie Cox) long history of working for voter protection issues, I have every confidence that they will make a decision that is as inclusive as possible. No Council or Board member has expressed support for this proposal so far. This was an FYI email from the BoE director to the Town Council- not something that is under serious consideration yet. Let's all calm down and see if it goes anywhere before jumping to conclusions.

Fight It Early

I completely agree and appreciate your clarification of the level of this proposal however as a student who works very hard to ensure that young people play an active role in the electoral process I don't think we can allow for this proposal to be considered any further and I see the only way of doing that as making as much noise as possible right now. The BOE and Chapel Hill Town Council need to see how important Morehead Planetarium as an early voting site is, especially in a period of NC politics where young people have been consistently disadvantaged by recent proposed laws, ranging from the Voter ID Bill (thankfully vetoed!) to the shortening of the early voting period (passed!). We cannot afford any more added obstacles to student voting!

Erin Crouse's picture

As a former UNCYD Executive

As a former UNCYD Executive Board member, I'm well aware of the history of student voting issues at UNC, and in no way want to see them disenfranchised. However, I'm almost certain they'll be able to work something out. $1200 isn't much, especially in the scheme of the University or local government. And with the early voting period likely (but sadly) being shortened, it's likely to cost less than that.

Travis Crayton's picture

Clearly Undemocratic

Early voting at Morehead Planetarium has been the ONLY realistic option for students to cast their ballots for years, and to take that away now is going to disenfranchise the vast majority of the student population in Chapel Hill. The fact that the UNC campus is split into so many different precincts leads to incredible confusion for students as it already is since so few students can actually vote on campus at the CDA on Election Day.I think we all understand that budgetary constraints are very real in these economic times, but there is a line to draw here, and I think disenfranchising such a huge population is where we have to say enough is enough - we have to spend a little more to make sure the people of Chapel Hill can have their voices heard. 

Encourage student participation

While I respect the Board’s concerns about financial constraints, I urge you to maintain Morehead Planetarium as an early voting site. As a UNC student who cares deeply about my town and has been heavily involved with local elections in the past, I would like to echo the previous comments in that moving the voting site would have several consequences. Removing the easy access that students now have would severely curtail student participation. A considerable number of students would no longer vote because of the inconvenience it would pose.

 

I recognize that proponents of this move may say that the students and other individuals who “truly care” about voting will travel to the Senior Center, but it is simply not that easy. Busy college students, some of whom only have budding interests in politics and in Chapel Hill, may neither have the time nor the resources to make the trip. We should be encouraging young participation in the democratic system and in Chapel Hill by maintaining the convenient Morehead voting site, NOT discouraging it by moving it far away.

 

Renee Sullender

Co-Vice President, UNC-CH Young Democrats 

People are focusing on the

People are focusing on the "where" factor of early voting but I don't see anyone mentioning the "when."  For lots of people the weekday early voting hours are useless regardless of where early voting happens.  If you want to increase voter turnout how about for at least one weekend having all day Saturday and Sunday voting?I voted at the Seymour Center last time and the slightly greater hassle of getting there as compared to getting to Morehead was insignificant compared to the much greater hassle of having to wait an hour to vote because the line was so long because it was a Saturday.

Here's an idea...

What's to stop us from offering to pay the parking cost? I'd be happy to drop a twenty to the muni... maybe more if they're willing to do ::gasp:: two early voting sites.In addition to that ray of sunshine, I agree with Jose. Having two full days of weekend voting is really important. (If you're a student and you don't have a car... call me. I'll drive you where you need to go. No really... 919-636-9307. Any election. If I'm not working for a campaign, I'll take the day off to do this.)Putting students aside for a sec, making sure working class adults get to employ their franchise is a whole lot more difficult if they have to work a twelve hour shift that starts at 7am... hense the weekend voting. - Fin. Adam 

Keep Voting on Campus

The GOP legislature is already trying to end pre-registration for young people, shorten early voting, end Sunday voting, and add other restrictions for voting... we don't need to add transportation difficulties for students in a college town to the list of calamities the General Assembly is already providing. I think the planetarium is the most sensible since its association with voting is well promulgated, but if budgetary options reached the point of being an insurmountable constraint, then find a space at student health, or the Carolina Inn, or a church on franklin street, or at a stadium, but keep it within walking distance.  And if the location is changed, then people need to know about it.  Which could mean announcing it, putting up signs at Morehead to redirect people, maybe some WCHL ads, getting coverage in the daily tarheel and other local papers, plastering it up in buses, etc.  You have to consider the costs of educating people about the change into the budget for a just change to occur.

gercohen's picture

cost of the election

The Town Council can pony up the cost of the early voting site. It's as simple as that. it is a municipal election (though the county is having a sales tax referendum the same day)

Jason Baker's picture

Municipal contributions?

True, but if that was ever a going to be a possibility, it would have been nice to see the letter sometime before the budget was passed for the coming fiscal year.  I'm not convinced anyone in Chapel Hill is interested in picking up more of the tab for something that has traditionally been seen as a county function, after watching the passion on both sides at the library funding discussion on Monday. Gerry, you probably know better than any of us, what is the precedent in other counties for municipal contribution to early voting locations? [edit:typo]

gercohen's picture

half the cost

Typically when there is a town and county election on the same date (which there is this November) the town pays half the cost of the election, so I assume that the cost of the early voting is partially paid for by the town already.

Mia Burroughs's picture

Waive the parking fee?

I'm wondering if the BOE or anyone else has approached the University to waive the parking fee?  I know UNC is in a terrible budget crunch but that amount seems relatively small compared to the benefit to town/gown relations.

Ruby Sinreich's picture

Ask UNC

Since the main expense is parking, why don't we ask UNC to be a good community partner and offer free parking for early voting? 

George C's picture

Agreed

Although this is a local election I would think that the University administrators would want to encourage student participation in the political process since those voters might eventually be able to help turn the tide against further state cuts to education following next year's state and national elections.

gercohen's picture

early voting hours

Over here in the County of Wake we switched all early voting sites on weekdays 11-7 six years ago. Turnout 9-11 am  had been far smaller than what we have 5-7 pm after work, plus there are less parking problems at most of the sites after 5 pm here.

penny rich's picture

FYI

Mr. Westmoreland, I was forwarded the email below and felt the need to respond.  The Orange County Board of Elections has never suggested to the Chapel Hill Town Council that the Morehead Planetarium not be an early voting site for the upcoming Town of Chapel Hill Municipal Election.  The Orange County Board of Elections does not make the decision on where to conduct early voting for the Municipal Elections.  That is up to the municipality who shall provide the funds to run the site during the early voting period if they decide to establish a one-stop voting site within their municipality.  I was asked to provide the additional cost associated with the parking at Morehead Planetarium for consideration by a town council member.  That was all that was provided.  If you have not read the email sent to the Chapel Hill Town Council in full I will be glad to forward to you. I would appreciate if you would forward this email to all those you sent the email below so that there is no misunderstanding that the Orange County Board of Elections is “suggesting or considering” eliminating the Morehead Planetarium as a proposed early voting site.  As stated in the email sent to the Chapel Hill Town Council, I have already made contact with Morehead Planetarium guest relations manager to reserve the site should the Chapel Hill Council request continued use of this site. Please let me know if I can provide additional information.  I look forward to working with you to ensure all voters, including the UNC students have the best opportunity to vote. Tracy Reams, DirectorOrange County Board of Elections919-245-23

Brooks Rainey Pearson's picture

The question that hasn't been asked...at least here

The email says "I was asked to provide the additional cost associated with the parking at Morehead Planetarium for consideration by a town council member." (emphasis added)Which town council member asked for this information and for what purpose? Surely a town council member wouldn't want to disenfranchise the students. 

Barbara Crockett's picture

DTH endorsed Matt C in the last election.

Even if students were split pretty evenly between Mark and Matt, it just doesn't seem like Matt would benefit all that much, if at all, by moving the site from Morehead. My guess is that some TC member is doing due diligence, gathering information as he or she tries to stretch limited money as far as possible to make elections accessible.

Are you familiar with where

Are you familiar with where and when early voting happened last year?  It was almost all at Morehead during weekdays.  That was a big advantage to students and anybody else that didn't work on weekdays.As far as I know, the only non-Morehead CH voting hours was one Saturday from 9-1 at whatever that center is up off of MLK Rd and the only reason it was there was becuase UNC had a home football game that day.  That's when I voted.  My wait in line was approximately an hour.  And when I left the line was longer than when I got there.  IOW, there was a tremedous demand for that time and site.  In the several times I've vote at Morehead I've never seen a line nearly as long as that.  I suspect the high demand was due more to the time (Saturday) than the site but still it doesn't make sense IMO to have all the early voting at one place when people live all over.   Is the point that if some of the early voting wasn't at Morehead then it would be harder for the students that live on campus to vote?  With the fleixble schedules students have and with fare-free buses from campus to wherever the voting was it wouldn't be that hard for them to vote off campus on weekdays.  It certainly would be easier than it is for people working on weekedays to vote at Morehead or anywhere else on weekdays. If the times and places for early voting are broadened this time around then around then we'll have less disenfranchisemet, not more.

Great news on early voting

Based on an email from Roger Stancil to the Council it appears that we are going to have two early voting sites (downtown and the Seymour Center).  This is great news for all voters.  I want to thank the Town manager and staff, the Board of Elections, the Orange County BOCC, the Mayor and the University who all worked hard to make this happen.  It is a great example of how asking questions and having a constructive dialogue can result in an outcome which meets the needs of all constituencies.  Thank you to everyone who participated.

penny rich's picture

Except

What really happened is UNC pulled the rug from under the town's feet and left us scrambling and searching for a downtown location that is near or close enough to campus in order not to disenfranchise the student vote. This was not a great example at all of how the TOCH, UNC and the BOE should be reacting in last minute decission making.  There were no questions asked...the BOE was just told, at the very last second, that the Moorehead site was not avaiable. At that point Senator Kinnaird, Jim White from the BOE, Mayor K and Mg. Stancil, began their search for a campus location. I am extreamly dissappointed in the lack of communication from UNC, and I can understand why some students are unhappy with going to the "Quickie Mart" to vote. Not b/c it isn't on campus, I believe that it is, but b/c voting at Moorehead was special, especially if it is your first time voting.I do like the idea of having the Seymour center open for early voting.  Many will take advantage of this in the northern part of CH. Thanks to the staff there for allowing us, on short notice, to utilize that space.Lastly, I am hoping for a disscussion on the council level or comiittee level to prepare for the future of early voting. I am hopeful that UNC will work with the town in finding a permenent on campus location that meets the needs of the BOE. 

Voting

If any student is not going to vote because he/she has to walk a couple of extra blocks at some point during a week, the voting site isn't the problem. It's the students' lack of respect and understanding of civic responsibility.Again, kudos to those involved for facing an emergency and coming together to find a solution that may not be perfect but could have been much, much worse (like no downtown voting site!). 

gercohen's picture

looking forward to '12

Looking forward to 2012, why is a larger facility on central or south campus not being used -- is this a decision based on parking ?-- when there is a large population who do not have cars and thousands of others in close walking distance to campus locations? There are other early voting locations that have plenty of parking, so it's not like having one location with limited parking disenfrancises persons off campus who have accesss to cars. How about a meeting room in the alumni center near Kenan Stadium, or the Ramshead Building near there that has a parking deck -- or the Smith Center. What is it that I am missing?

James Barrett's picture

curbside

I'm guessing one of the answers is except for the alumni center, those locations aren't close enough to parking to allow curbside voting.  I can't find a source of *where* people voted early in 2010, but of the almost 10,000 who voted early in OC, 1300 were age 22 or less at the time.   Certainly when I've worked the polls at Morehead, I've seen plenty of professors who vote early on campus as well, but I think overall we need balance when we consider these sites.