by Matt Saldaña
In a 2-0 decision (with one abstention), the Durham County Board of Elections approved the State Board of Elections' recommendation to extend early voting hours until 5 p.m. Saturday. Meanwhile, other counties, including Orange and Currituck, refused.
(Update: According to the State Board of Elections website, Wake County has also extended voting until 5 p.m. at all of its early voting sites.}
"All over, we were getting calls--dozens and dozens--saying, 'You're open till 5 o'clock now,'" Mike Ashe, the director of Durham County Board of Elections, told the three-member board. "To not open until 5 o'clock would be disastrous, because everybody now believes we have. Plus, we've got a lot of people wanting to vote."
Ashe, who is not a voting member on the board, was referring to media reports that the SBOE ordered counties to extend hours until 5 p.m. Saturday; in fact, the state agency had merely recommended the extension. However, each county's board of elections was required to meet and decide on whether to extend hours. If one board member approved of the extension, the director was required to implement the change--even if he or she did not agree.
In an Oct 31 e-mail obtained by the Indy, SBOE Chairman Larry Leake informed elections directors that they must go forward with the 5 p.m. deadline, unless their board unanimously disapproved. [etheridgeletter (PDF, 16 KB]
"If a member feels that the one stop sites should remain open until 5PM, I trust that you will fully implement that decision," Leake wrote in the letter, addressed to Mary Etheridge, director of the Currituck County Board of Elections, and forwarded to SBOE staff and county directors. "If it is impossible for you to do so, you, of course should resign."
In a telephone interview, Etheridge told the Indy that the board's decision was unanimous all along.
"We voted yesterday, and we will not be extending hours. They said that if you're having extremely long lines, or long waits, you need to extend it. And, we're not," she said.
In Durham County, Ashe said that the longest wait had been 20-30 minutes, despite nearly 80,000 voters casting their ballot early. (He expected that number to eclipse 100,000 by Saturday, well over half of the county's roughly 175,000 voters.)
Terry McCabe, who abstained from voting for or against the extension, said of Leake's e-mail: "That's not the way this country's supposed to be run."
When asked if there were any drawbacks to extending voting hours, he said, "I don't see where there's any negative. I don't see where there's any positive. We've had all these days up to this point in time. We've got an election day as well."
In addition to Currituck County, Orange County voted unanimously not to extend early voting hours. Orange County Board of Elections Director Tracy Reams told the Indy in a telephone interview that the primary reason for the board's decision was that the county had not experienced "extensive lines." At press time, the Orange County Board of Elections Web site contains no information about extended hours, but Reams said that a press release, and Web update, were forthcoming.