Voters in North Carolina hoping to visit the polls before the Election Day rush have just a few more days to do so, but they should be able to look forward to a short, smooth trip — especially in Haywood County.
As of 2 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 24, almost 4,300 Haywood County residents had already cast their vote in person at one of three area One Stop voting locations.
Residents of Haywood, Jackson, Macon and Swain counties wishing to vote in advance of the Tuesday, Nov. 8, election in have multiple times and locations to choose from, beginning Thursday, Oct. 20, until early voting ends on Saturday, Nov. 5. For more information, visit www.ncsbe.gov.
The two-year journey from the primaries to the polls is almost over – but not until you cast your vote! Follow along with this handy guide to make sure you have what it takes to make your voice heard.
The recent ruling out of the U. S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit may have county elections boards across North Carolina grappling with required changes in time for November’s General Election, but things are proceeding smoothly in Haywood County, according to Robert Inman, director of the Haywood County Board of Elections.
Voters hoping to cast their ballots in advance of the Tuesday, June 7, Primary Election have just a few more days to make it to one of several polling locations in Haywood, Jackson, Macon or Swain counties.
During early voting this year, some voters in Haywood County found themselves waiting up to an hour to cast their ballot. But when Election Day rolled around, many walked right into their precinct without delay.
Absentee voters have been licking their stamps for weeks, and beginning last Thursday, early voters started arriving at polling places across Western North Carolina.
The Swain County Board of Elections has decided to continue running a satelite early voting site in Cherokee, but to the chagrin of some nixed for now the idea of an additional site in the rural Alarka community.
The Swain County commissioners this week approved the election board’s request for $2,600 to run an early voting site in Cherokee for two weeks prior to the May primary election.
However, the election board decided not to pursue an early voting site catering to residents in the remote communities of Alarka and Nantahala.
Swain first ran an early voting location in Cherokee during 2010 but has debated for the past month whether it was worth the cost to do so again this year. Without the extra site, Cherokee residents must drive anywhere from 20 to 40 minutes to reach the main early voting site in Bryson City. Jackson County has historically provided an early voting site in Cherokee for residents on the Jackson side of the reservation.
The Cherokee site will also make early voting more convenient for voters in Whittier, which is closer to Cherokee than Bryson City.
“That portion of the county was underserved,” said Mark Tyson, a member of the Board of Elections. “There had been a lot of community response made to the board.”
Residents of Alarka and Nantahala have similarly long treks, but the Board of Elections determined that it did not have enough time to adequately set up a brand new early voting site.
“It would be tougher to do a site in the western part of the county,” Tyson said, “given the short of amount of time that we had and the limited resources.” The election board decided to revisit the idea of a West Swain site next year.
Commissioner David Monteith suggested the election board go ahead and ask for money for both sites, but they felt it was too late to prepare both in time for early voting.
“I challenged them on it and told them they should do so, but they didn’t want to do it,” Monteith said.
Monteith said county residents would have liked to see the additional site in West Swain and that the election board should have dealt with the issue earlier.
“They could have come to us a month ago,” he said. “They just weren’t thinking ahead.”
The Board of Elections members had to appear before the commissioners twice in the past week over the issue. The first time, the election board did not come with a clear request but instead presented an open-ended question to commissioners on which sites they wanted to fund.
“So you all have not decided exactly what you want to get? You are speculating?” said Commissioner David Monteith.
Board of Elections Chair James Fisher explained that the election board had avoided making a hard and fast request because they did not want to put the final decision on the backs of the commissioners.
“I felt like it was unfair to y’all,” Fisher said.
Monteith replied that the commissioners would be answerable to the final decision anyway.
“Would it not be better for you guys to make a decision on what you want?” Monteith said. “I would rather know exactly what you want.”
Commissioners told the election board to return once they had nailed down what specifically it wanted the county to fund. The election board came back five days later with its specific request — namely to fund the site in Cherokee but not Alarka.
When the Swain County Board of Elections first offered an early voting site in Cherokee in 2010, the turnout was poor, with only 226 people taking advantage of the new location. “That’s not to say that it won’t be successful this go around,” Fisher said.
Board of election members said the site may just need more time to gain a following but also questioned whether the county can afford to spend thousands of dollars on a previously underused early voting site. The board spent about $3,500 to run the site in 2010.
“We are letting these people down by not getting them where they need to vote,” said resident Barbara Robinson.
The Swain County Board of Elections first approached the Board of Commissioners after realizing that it didn’t have enough money in its budget this year to run more than the single early voting site in Cherokee.
Counties once got a small contribution from the federal government to help fund early votings, but the state legislature for now is refusing to pony up the required state match, which means counties would not get the assistance this year.
“It is thrown on the backs of the counties,” said Phil Carson, chairman of the board of commissioners. “The taxpayers are footing the bill.”
Swain County commissioners will have to decide in coming weeks whether to pony up $3,000 to $5,000 for an early voting site in Cherokee this election.
The Swain County Board of Elections doesn't have the money in its budget this year to run an early voting site in Cherokee as it did in 2010. The election board decided last week to pass the decision up the chain to county commissioners.
The election board also has given county commissioners the option of funding another early voting site at the West Swain County Fire Department to serve the Alarka, Almond and Nantahala areas.
The cost of running the sites would be between $6,000 and $12,000, said Joan Weeks, director of Swain County's Board of Elections. Right now, the only early voting site would be at the board of elections office in Bryson City.
Board of Elections Chairman James Fisher seemed confident that the commissioners would approve their request and then the board could move forward with election preparations.
"We are going to appear before the county commissioners and get the funding," Fisher said.
All three election board members have declared their support for continuing to operate the early voting site in Cherokee as long as they can line up the funding.
"I am still very hopeful we can make this happen," said board member Mark Tyson. "It would be sad if it didn't."
Tyson wanted the election board to go ahead and vote last week on the additional early voting sites. He made a motion to approve the early voting sites in Cherokee and West Swain pending funding from the county commissioners.
But, the other two election board members felt it was more appropriate to simply ask commissioners first.
"I felt like Mr. Tyson was trying to create a problem," Fisher said. "It would have backed the commissioners in a corner."
Board of Election officials will make their request at the next county commissioners meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 28. And, at least some county commissioners are open to the idea of contributing to the early voting sites.
"I fully support the tribe having a voting precinct," said Commissioner David Monteith. "I think they should have a place to vote."
Commissioner Steve Moon, on the other hand, was more hesitant, saying he wants to discuss the issue with the other commissioners before deciding whether the $6,000 to $12,000 investment is worth it.
"That's a lot of money," Moon said. "That is not something we need to rush into."
County Commissioner Donnie Dixon agreed that the board must meet to talk about the issue collectively but was more optimistic that it might vote in favor of funding the sites.
"That is very possible," said Commissioner Dixon.
After addressing the county commissioners, election officials are planning to meet with tribal council leaders to update them on the issue.
Cherokee leaders have indicated that they would like the early voting site to operate again this election year and are willing to offer the county Internet services and a building on the reservation free of charge.
The request for an early voting site in West Swain came up for the first time this year.
Former elections board member John Herrin filed a formal request with the Board of Elections for a site located at the West Swain County Fire Department in Almond. The location would offer residents near the Nantahala Gorge and Alarka a closer place to vote. Currently, residents must drive into Bryson City — a 20- to 30-minute trip — in order to cast their ballot early.
"It is my intent in requesting this that it will inherently make the 'Right to Vote' much easier for the registered voters of Swain County," wrote Herrin in his request. "This would as well relieve some of the workload on the Election Day for very possibly the whole county."
When the Swain County Board of Elections first offered an early voting site in Cherokee in 2010, the turnout was poor, with only 226 people taking advantage of the new location. Board of election members said the site may just need more time to gain a following but also questioned whether the county can afford to spend thousands of dollars on a previously underused early voting site. The board spent about $3,500 to run the site in 2010.
Without the additional location, Cherokee residents will again have to drive to the Swain County election office in Bryson City if they want to vote early — a more than 20-minute trek. And, for those living in the far reaches of Cherokee's Big Cove community, the trip is more like 30 to 40 minutes.
However, Cherokee residents aren't the only ones in Swain County who face a long haul into Bryson City to take advantage of early voting. People in Alarka and Nantahala have similar distances to drive. Residents of that area travel about 21 miles, or about 30 minutes, to cast early ballots.
Residents of western Swain County have indicated that they would like an early voting site as well. But, a formal request for an additional location was not submit to the Board of Elections until this year.