Board of Elections Public Input Meeting for Early Voting

lnackman's picture

I attended the last two Orange County Board of Elections public meetings as a resident who cares about easy access to voting for all citizens. Tuesday’s meeting was a complete sham.  While the meeting’s purpose was advertised on the Board’s web site as “[t]o receive public input on the 2014 November One-Stop voting hours and location,” the Board’s actions said otherwise.

Citizens eager to provide input filled the room to overflowing, and yet Chairwoman Knight opened the meeting by directing each “side” (her word) to organize (how?) to speak for 15 minutes in support or opposition to adding Sunday early voting hours.  By allocating 15 minutes to each “side,” she pre-determined that the board would hear equal opposition and support, and have no opportunity to understand the balance of citizen opinion in the room. This pre-determined allocation led, for example, to the board hearing a very long statement by a representative of the Republican Party but not allowing an African-American supporter of Sunday voting to speak at all, despite his repeated attempts to do so.

Other public input meetings establish a per-speaker time limit and let anyone speak within that limit, regardless of viewpoint.  Indeed, at its public input meeting, the Wake County Board of Elections allowed anyone to speak for three minutes and devoted several hours to public input. Had the Orange County board followed this usual practice, they would have heard what the public wanted to say, not what the board’s chairwoman wanted to hear. 

After the 30-minute public input period was closed, Chairwoman Knight somehow found the time to ask two pre-selected poll employees to speak.  They both opposed Sunday voting. I wonder how those particular employees were chosen from among the board’s many employees.

The public input process was not the only problem. When board member Cox introduced a motion in support of adding Sunday voting hours, Chairwoman Knight asked Tracy Reams (board staff) if there was money in the budget for Sunday voting hours.  Ms. Reams replied that there was not.  Well, why would there be money in the budget for something not previously planned?  To my amazement, no board member asked basic questions such as how much staffing Sunday hours would cost, whether any other potential funding source existed, or if budget re-prioritization was possible.  Anyone seriously considering the public’s request for Sunday hours would have asked these and other questions. 

So, I asked Orange County Commissioner Penny Rich for some facts.  Four hours of Sunday voting would cost $3,000 to staff, including overtime — little in the context of the county’s $200M annual budget.  Moreover, Commissioner Rich told me that the Orange County Commissioners made it clear to Ms. Reams that they were willing to expend additional resources to be sure that everyone was able to vote in the primary election and that that assumption holds true for the general election.  It is hard to understand why Ms. Reams wouldn’t have volunteered this information to the board in response to Chairwoman Knight’s question, instead of leaving the false impression that funding was a problem.

As a citizen, I expect from the Board of Elections fairness, integrity, and openness to public input, all of which appeared to be in short supply on Tuesday.  Perhaps it is time to rethink the partisan process by which state statute requires that each county’s board be comprised of members recommended by the State chairman of each political party.  In practice each county board has two members selected from the Governor’s political party and one from the other party.   In Orange County, with about 16% of voters registered Republican, 49% Democratic, .5% Libertarian, and 34% unaffiliated, such a process is unlikely to yield a Board that is representative of the County’s citizens, regardless of which party holds the Governor’s office.  A Board of Elections elected by the voters or appointed by the county commissioners would seem preferable.

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Total votes: 141

14 Comments

mghughes's picture

Alternative System is Problematic

I, like you, am truly disappointed in the decision of the Board of Elections not to adopt an early vote plan that includes Sunday voting. That means Durham and Wake will have Sunday voting and we won't. That's a terrible result of Tuesday's meeting and there is certainly a discussion to be had on how the members should be selected. 

I'm not sure if an election board comprised of elected members is ethical. After all they would be overseeing the elections in which they would be a candidate while also having to raise money, filing campaign reports, etc.

However, no alternative selection process would be perfect. Selection of the members by the party that carried the county in the previous gubernatorial election? Appointment by the Secretary of State? Various options should be explored.

lnackman's picture

Selection process

Good points about the selection process.  My goal would be that the composition of the board reflect the needs/desires of the county's electorate, not the partisan political goals of whichever party currently has the governorship.  Maybe appointment by the County Commisioners as a proxy for the county's electorate?

mghughes's picture

Closer, but may still pose a problem

For the most part I think the local boards function independently of elected officials through a diffused selection process. Speaking for all 100 counties, this may not be a good system. We have a unanimous board of commissioners here in Orange County. Other counties do not. That's a very contentious selection process in the making. Moreover, there's another issue with county commissioners appointing an elections board. The county elections board oversees campaign financing in each county for county elections, municipal elections, and school board elections (state legislative and judicial races are handled by the state board). It would be awkward in terms of campaign finance oversight and when you have to decide provisional ballots in what could be a highly charged political process. I do not think these issues would come up in Orange County, but you have to think about the entire state as well.

First, I have worked as an

First, I have worked as an election official (Chief Judge and Judge) for 25 years in Orange County. The staff does an very good job. Most people only think of them around election time and their hours become long not only before election day but also after. I don't have a problem giving them at least one day a week off leading up to an election. There job is very stressful. You libs don't give a damm about the staff or understand what is involved in having a polling place open.

A member of the regular staff has to be available to answer questions about a voter. Staff has access to a larger database that we don't at the precinct level or early voting site. There has not been an election where I have not called the election office a number of time during the day to get information for a possible voter who has some kind of issue.

If Commissioner Rich can find money for Sunday voting why not increase the pay for Staff and poll workers as well? We know she no problem raising taxes. I look at the issue from a different viewpoint if you want Sunday voting are you willing to give up Saturday voting? You cannot please everyone so stop trying!

penny rich's picture

facts

Patrick, how about we start a conversation without making accusations that are just not true. A little bit of background on me first. I was raised in a mixed marriage. That’s right my mom a liberal Dem and my dad a fiscal Rep. Growing up I always knew that my parents votes negated each others. Just the way it was. However, both of my parents taught me how to care about others, my responsibility in helping others and always being fair by listening to the needs of others. I was raised on the belief of tikkun olam. Yea! You might have to look that one up. You see I didn’t ask my parents if they were giving me democratic advice or republican advise. I just knew that they were teaching me to be a good human being.

No one ever said that the staff was doing a bad job. I don’t know where you got that information from, but Tracy Reams and her two staff members are extremely professional and Tracy runs a great office. She has been nothing but helpful with our ongoing efforts to educate citizens about the unfortunate voting laws that now bind our state.

The temporary seasonal employees that are hired as poll workers should understand the workload before agreeing to the position.  If they do not agree to the  time commitment, perhaps there is a better temporary job the county can offer them. Temporary employees at polling sites are not staff; they are seasonal employees. When you say libs don’t care, I have no idea what you are talking about. I don’t know how you come to that conclusion and frankly I don’t think many people agree with that conclusion. If the job is to stressful for particular workers, perhaps they should consider a different job that the county has to offer. Everything you are describing is part of the job. Phone calls, verifying information, solving issues. All this will only get more complicated in 2016. If the job is to stressful Patrick, please rethink your commitment. I don’t think Tracy wants anyone to be stressed out.

Now let’s address your last paragraph. Phew…this is a loaded one for sure. Raising taxes is a difficult vote. No one ever wants to do this. The county commissioners had three public hearings where we listened to over 100 speakers. Lets just compare that to the public hearing the BOE board just held where they decided there were sides and then you only have a certain amount of time per side. This is not a public meeting. This is a pre determined calculated show. Here is the press release in case you did not read it. “The purpose of this meeting is to receive public input”

Elections

Media Contact

Tracy Reams, Director

Orange County Board of Elections

Phone: 919.245.2350

treams@orangecountync.gov

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

 

ORANGE COUNTY TO DISCUSS ONE-STOP EARLY VOTING FOR THE 2014 GENERAL ELECTION

ORANGE COUNTY, NC (July 16, 2014)— The Orange County Board of Elections will hold a public meeting on Tuesday, July 22, at 11:15 a.m.

The purpose of the meeting is to receive public input on the One-Stop Early Voting hours and locations for the 2014 General Election.  The meeting will be held at the Board of Elections office located at 208 S. Cameron Street in Hillsborough.


For more information, please call the Elections office at 919.245.2350.

 

Patrick, on top of the over 100 citizens that spoke in front of the BOCC we had hundreds maybe even a thousand e-mails. 99.9% asking us to please not let our schools suffer because of the actions in Raleigh. We had meetings with the school boards, the school superintendents, the PTA leaders contacted us, the teachers, the teacher’s assistants, the special education teachers, the students, the overall head of the PTA. All asking us to please raise taxes to make sure our schools don’t suffer. What did I do with that information Patrick? I listened. That’s why I raised taxes. This is what public input is. This was a very difficult vote. We have a poverty rate of 17% among out Orange County children. Our state ranks 38th in economic well being of our children. I know people are suffering. We cannot deny our children a good education. They will never get ahead if we do not take care of our schools.

Now let’s talk about increased salaries. Every employee in Orange County received a 1.5% raise that started in the fiscal year, July 2014. Tracy and her staff got a raise. Employees that work seasonally fared much better. The BOCC believes in a living wage. 2013-14 the living wage calculated at $10.97 per hour. In actuality no one was making this wage, it was a bit higher. The BOCC decided to bring everyone, including seasonal workers, up to the lowest wage earner. This is $12.76 per hour. Poll workers got a 16.3% raise as of July 2014.

Blogs are an interesting way to communicate. You can hide behind words and make believe facts that sometimes grow legs and are taken as truth. I would hope in the future you would do your due diligence and get the facts before posting.  This is especially important as a Chief Judge/Judge in our community.

Geoff Green's picture

unconvinced

I  would find the argument about giving election officers time off somewhat compleling except that so many other counties in the state (and around the country) manage to do Sunday voting just fine, despite these concerns. Was this even mentioned at the board's meeting? Did the members of the staff express concern about the amount of work they would be asked to perform if there were Sunday voting?

mghughes's picture

There were election judges

There were some election judges that spoke in opposition. Director Reams has always expressed concerns about staff workload. Those are not illegitimate concerns when asking our staff to do more, but I also don't believe that what the community has for asked is unreasonable.

mghughes's picture

Let's Talk Turnout

Over the last few midterm elections turnout has increased significiantly for these primary elections. A quick run of the numbers:

Midterm primary

  • 2006: 13.23%
  • 2010: 15.00%
  • 2014: 19.35%

Part of the increase is increased early voting and part of it are the efforts of candidates and parties. I do not believe you can reach presidential turnout in a midterm year. Even in a presidential primary turnout is approximately 50% of the electorate vs ~70% in the general. A lot of room for effort and part of that is making it easier to cast ballots.

I am the spouse of one of those election workers...

I am the spouse of one of those election workers, although I did not speak, I also attended this meeting, and feel the need to share my thoughts.  During this meeting, the African American man was denied the opportunity to speak on "why voting was a privilege to African American voters", which had nothing to do with Sunday voting. Maybe if he had chose to speak on the subject everyone was there for, maybe he could have shared.  I never heard Ms. reams say money wasn't available; I heard her tell everyone about 5 sites and that's what had been budgeted for."  I am tired of hearing "what other counties do". I don't know everything, but I do know that "staff" are not sitting at home with their feet propped up Saturday afternoon and Sunday; I know this, because precinct workers pick up their supplies for working the election on Monday, 1 1/2 days after one-stop voting ends.  This stuff does not appear out of nowhere and I believe its the same room that voting was in and the same room this meeting was in.  And I really don't care how "other counties" do this either. As far as staff members expressing their opinion at this meeting, I remember seeing 2 (maybe 3) that day and all were "in the office" (I guess the office and telephones didn't stop for this meeting). And yes, poll workers would be very happy with a raise, thank you.

You are correct

Yes, Ms. Rich, you are correct.  There was a raise, and the $10 increase was greatly appreciated, so our household thanks the Board of Elections.  But to make sure everybody reading this understands, this is a one-day-job.

penny rich's picture

Job

The Board of Elections did not give you a raise. The county commissioners gave you a raise. Everyone received a raise this year to keep up with the cost of living in OC. It doesn't matter if you work one day or 365 days. That's the point. We believe everyone should make a living wage. However, this conversation is not about salaries or the so called tax dollars being spent on keeping polls open. It is about the GOPGA and the Republican Party across our country trying to suppress the vote. Let's not conflate the conversation.