Recap of Orange County Board of Elections Meeting

leestorrow's picture

This morning I attended the Orange County Board of Elections meeting where they determined the early voting plan for the Fall 2014 elections. I have been attending BOE meetings in Orange County for several years, and this was by far the largest turnout (over 50 people by my count) I have ever seen.

This meeting was called to consider adjusting the fall early voting plan to include voting hours on Sunday. At the board's meeting a week ago, some citizens representing Jews for Justice requested expansion to Sunday to provide a non-weekday voting option that didn't fall on the Jewish holy day, Saturday. The meeting opened with the Chair asking the audience to try to keep their comments brief. The board intended to limit public comment to 30 minutes, with each side receiving 15 minutes for their speakers to speak. I spoke in support of extending voting hours to Sunday, as did Hillsborough Commissioner Jenn Weaver and Carrboro Board of Aldermen Member Randee Haven- O'Donnell. Several other citizens spoke in support, including representatives from Jews for Justice, the League of Women Voters, and the Orange County Democratic Party.

Next, the board heard public comment from those opposed to early voting on Sunday. Several members of the Orange County Republican Party spoke against expanding hours to Sunday. Most speakers argued that expanding hours to Sunday was not a good use of tax dollars, and that residents had plenty of voting options right now.

The conversation got particularly heated when one of the speakers called voting a "privilege". An older African-American man stood up in the back and challenged the speaker, stating that voting is a right, not a privilege. The Chair, Kathy Knight, tried to get him to sit down but he continued to speak his mind and asked to be given time to formally address the board. The racial undertones of the interaction were clear, the man spoke about the history of limiting African-American access to the ballot box, and arguments about voting being a "privilege" versus a "right" made the interchange reminiscent of the civil rights era. The sense that we were witnessing an argument that could have happened decades ago was aided by the fact that the air conditioning was broken. Large fans had been placed in the back of the room that made it difficult to hear, and many speakers had to shout just to be heard.

Finally, the board considered the options before them. Jamie Cox (the appointee from the Orange County Democratic Party) spoke in support of adding Sunday hours, but neither of the two members appointed by the Republican Party agreed. Ultimately the board was able to come to a unanimous agreement to extend voting in Hillsborough on weekdays earlier in the morning (to 8 AM), and to extend voting hours at all sites on the first Saturday by one hour (to end at 2 PM). Jamie again attempted to negotiate a plan for early voting on Sunday by proposing to open just the Hillsborough early voting site on Sunday in exchange for not extending hours at all sites on Saturday, but again neither of the Republican appointed members agreed.

All in all, the board passed a fair, albeit sub-optimal plan for the fall. They extended the total hours offered during early voting to 303, and increased access to the early morning on weekdays for folks who might want to vote before going to work.

There is still more work to be done to expand access to voting in Orange County. A resident on the way out of the meeting commented to me that he thought expanding hours in the morning was more important to increasing access than adding Sunday hours. The board reiterated their interest in having an early voting site on the eastern side of Chapel Hill for future elections. In 2016, the board will have to provide as many total hours of early voting as they provided in 2012 because of an amendment introduced by Senator Josh Stein in the General Assembly last year. The plan approved for this fall does not surpass the hours provided in 2012, so there are opportunities for increasing sites and hours in the near future.

issue: 

Total votes: 158

7 Comments

penny rich's picture

racial undertones

It was interesting when one of the speakers from the OCRP called Judaism a race. It was straight out the 1950's. I could not help but correct him. Yes that was me speaking out of turn. I also found it interesting that the 2 R  BOE board members including the chair didn't know that the sabbath for the Jewish people begins sun down on Friday. 

I found the meeting poorly run letting folks talk for a very long time which limited the amount of people who spoke. There also was no sign up sheet which lead the chair to just recognize folks as they raised their hands and she did not tell people to limit their comments so everyone can have a chance to speak. 

When the African-American man addressed the "Voting is a Privilage" statement, the chair, who we didn't hear speak the whole meeting because she spoke so softly, suddenly had a loud voice to tell the man to sit down. Very disturbing. He ignored her and tried to get his point accross. She kept telling him to sit down. The man in the front row, who seemed to be facilitaing the meeting, was allowed to talk on. I finally asked who he was and why he could talk but the man addressing the privilage statement could not. 

 

I requested mic's for the next BOE meeting that would possiblably draw a crowd. I can't imagin this will take place anytime soon since this board voted for now.

2016 is right around the corner.  Thanks to everyone who came out today. 

 

Thanks for the summary, Penny

Thanks for the summary, Penny.   The gentleman in the front row was Bill Knight, the Chair's husband and a long-time Orange County resident.  I think he is a former OC Republican Party chair and used to serve on the BOE a few years back.

The meeting certainly didn't run as smoothly as one would hope, but I am pleased that we expanded hours, even if only slightly. Obviously I'm disappointed there wasn't the support for Sunday voting with the majority.  We will have to do MUCH more to meet the minimum requirements for 2016.  

Also disappointed that our building woes translated into increased noise in the room and that some citizens had difficulty hearing.  With as many participants as there were, a sign-up sheet probably would've been helpful.  Noted for next time!

And thanks again to you and everyone who participated.  Our meetings are usually very sparsely attended, so it's good to see the community engaged.

Jamie

penny rich's picture

Did you know

Jamie, I am wondering if you were privy to information before the meeting started on how the meeting was going to run? For example how long the open  mic part was and that the debate was  for and against Sunday voting? I also wonder if you knew of the plan to put the nays last as well as grabbing 2 poll workers from the county and not from the municipalities? This seems to have all been put in place before the meeting which leads me to believe that there was a session that took place with the other two board members that excluded you. Some of the emails and conversations I am having with citizens seem to think that a violation of the open meetings rule occurred and that a closed session or closed conversation must have happened. I am happy to talk to you about this via phone and share some of the concerns citizens have. There are many. 

Poll workers

One of those "2 polls workers from the county and not from the municipalities", I've known for a couple years.  They work at one of the early voting sites in Chapel Hill and at a downtown Chapel Hill polling site-which is a municipality.  

James Barrett's picture

Unsettling is right

Gerry or anyone else with a long political memory -- were things like this when Martin was in the Executive Mansion?  Or are they as truly horrible as they seem now?

Jason Baker's picture

Beyond unsettling

Restricting access to voting at all is unsettling.

Doing so in a way that smacks of racism is just disgusting.

But what I can't stand about the reports I've heard is that the county board of elections chair conducted the meeting in such a way as to allow her husband, a former county GOP chair, preferential treatment to the degree that, as Penny wrote, he "seemed to be facilitaing the meeting." I wasn't there (because like many people, I have a job that doesn't always allow me to go to daytime meetings in the middle of the week), but this just sounds absolutely corrupt.