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Durham gears up early voting for predicted record turn-out

You might expect three hours spent on a DATA bus with the chairs of the county's Republican and Democratic parties to be a long, uncomfortable ride indeed. Especially when another rider on the bus brought one of those political joke books for the occasional wisecrack.

Evoting_bustour Instead, it was a quite comfortable, congenial, good-natured trip around Durham County, a tour of early voting sites for party officials, candidates and the media in advance of next month's opening of the One Stop No Excuse polling places.

Comfortable, yes, but it was still a very long ride -- and quite properly so, since there was a lot of county to traverse.

Durham County's Board of Elections is opening up an unprecedented number of early voting sites, almost twice the 2004 count, in preparation for what's projected to be an all-time record number of voters. All told, there will be seven early voting sites covering the county's terrain, from the Southpoint area to North Durham, eastern Durham County to the Orange County border.

Included among that tally is an early voting precinct on Duke's West Campus, beneficiary of a recent change in state law allowing non-taxpayer-funded sites like private schools and churches to host these One Stop locations.

The three-hour tour of Durham voting sites was organized by Durham County elections chief Mike Ashe, seen standing in the photo at right. Seated near him are, from left, Durham County GOP chair David Smudski; Chris, the head of the Obama campaign in the county; elections board member Terry McCabe; and Durham County Democratic Party chair Kevin Farmer.

"We ought to set a record in every measurable category," said Durham elections chief Mike Ashe of both the general election and the early voting program.

Ashe expects that 50% of all votes cast will come through early voting. 111,000 ballots were cast in 2004's record-setting year for Durham democracy; Ashe predicts this year's tally could run to as many as 140,000 votes cast.

Some of which are already coming in: 2,500 absentee ballots have already been sent out, with fifty of those already back.

For the half of Durham voters planning to use one-stop early voting to make their mark on this year's election, all seven of the early voting sites will be open seven days a week from Thursday, October 16 through Saturday, November 1.

Earlyvoting_sites One big piece of advice: the best early voting is early early voting. Ashe predicts from past experience that the last few days of early voting will see the longest lines. Each early voting site can comfortably process 150 or so voters per hour at their twenty-plus voting booths -- but history has also shown long lines at early voting sites on the last day of One Stop balloting.

(The one day record for early voting in Durham is 1,800 voters in one day at one site.)

Another tip: the early morning, noon, and late afternoon periods are, for obvious reasons, the busiest ones on any day at an Early Voting site. Mid-morning and mid-afternoon are good slow periods to check in and ballot up.

The presence of an on-campus voting site at Duke -- located on the Old Trinity Room in the West Union Building on Duke's West Campus -- is a first for the relatively young phenomenon of early voting. Ashe noted it was the idea of Duke professor Gunther Peck, an idea that quickly picked up the support of Duke executive VP Tallman Trask III and the university's administration.

Given that state laws require that only the Board of Elections have access to precinct locations throughout the early voting period, the Gothic Wonderland will find itself in the unique position of having a local government office have the only access to the temporarily-rekeyed Old Trinity Room for a couple of weeks' time. (Got a facilities maintenance problem? Call the BoE!)

"To give it to us for a seventeen day period... for them to make the commitment to give the Old Trinity Room really shows" Duke's support of the early voting program, Ashe said.

Ashe also called attention to North Carolina's straight-ticket voting system (allowing a Democrat, Republican or Libertarian ballot mark to apply to most races), including some of its important particulars:

  • A straight-party vote doesn't apply to the presidential race, or to issue votes like the prepared meals tax; if you want to make your mark in those races, you have to make a mark on the ballot.
  • Even if you vote a straight party ticket, you can override your party choice for individual races by marking that race in particular.
  • For a multi-vote race (such as the Board of County Commissioners), a straight-party vote applies to all candidates of your selected party. Marking a vote for any individual candidate(s) in such a race, however, means you are therefore voting only for that candidate(s), and others from your straight-ticket party won't receive your vote.

Weekday hours will be 9am-5:30pm, save for the last Thursday and Friday of canvassing, when the polls will remain open until 7:00pm.

Each of the three weekends' hours will vary. Saturday polling will open at 9am and then close at 3pm (10/18), 5:30pm (10/25), and 1:00pm (11/1). Sunday early voting hours are set at 12pm-3pm (10/19) and 12pm-5:30pm (10/26.)

The seven early voting sites are spread throughout the county, as Ashe explains:

  • Downtown: The Board of Elections office downtown on Corporation St.
  • NCCU: Parish Center Meeting Room, 1400 S. Alston Ave., at the former Holy Cross Catholic Church Site
  • Duke: Old Trinity Room, West Union, Duke's West Campus
  • East Durham: East Regional Library off NC 98 near Oak Grove
  • South Durham: Southwest Elementary School gymnasium (follow the signs to the right entrance)
  • West Durham: Forest View Elementary (follow the signs to the right entrance)
  • North Durham: North Regional Library, off US 501/Roxboro Rd. on Milton Rd.



I included a link to this post in my blog post about my experience Early Voting in Durham.

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