Key election dates ahead

Published 8:34 pm Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Staff Writer

Friday is the last day for North Carolina voters who do not plan to take advantage of “early voting” to register to vote in the Nov. 2 general election.
Voters who do not register by Friday may opt to register during the one-stop, early voting period, which begins statewide Oct. 14.
People who register to vote during the one-stop period also must vote during that period, said Kellie Harris Hopkins, Beaufort County’s elections director.
Beaufort County election officials will open two satellite voting sites in the county to serve one-stop voters this year.
The satellite sites will be located at the Aurora Community Center, 442 Third St., and in the Belhaven Town Council chambers at the old Town Hall, 213 E. Main St.
Both satellite centers will open for one-stop voters from 7 a.m. until 6 p.m. Oct. 19 and Oct. 26, said Hopkins.
The Beaufort County Board of Elections’ offices will be open to one-stop voters from 7 a.m. until 6 p.m. Mondays through Fridays beginning Oct. 14.
The elections offices normally are open from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m., but the extended one-stop hours were made possible by a state grant, Hopkins explained.
The Board of Elections’ offices will accommodate last-minute, one-stop voters from 8 a.m. until 1 p.m. Oct. 30, the day the one-stop period ends.
In addition to local county commissioner races and state legislative and congressional contests, voters across North Carolina will decide the fate of a proposed state constitutional amendment that would prevent convicted felons from serving as sheriffs.
“The proposed amendment to Article VII, Section 2 of the North Carolina Constitution would add language stating that individuals convicted of a felony in North Carolina or any other state would be ineligible to serve as a sheriff in North Carolina whether or not his or her rights of citizenship have been restored,” reads written information provided by Hopkins.
In addition, the state’s voters will choose one of 13 candidates to replace N.C. Court of Appeals Judge Jim Wynn, who has been elevated to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Wynn’s replacement will be selected by means of an “instant runoff,” which lets voters rank their preferred candidates in three columns — first, second, third.
These ranking columns will appear at the end of the ballot.
“The first choice votes will be tallied to determine if a candidate receives a majority of votes,” reads a written explanation provided by Hopkins. “If not, then the two candidates with the most first choice votes advance to an Instant Runoff round, where the second or third choice votes for these candidates are tabulated and then added to the first choice totals from the first round. The candidate with the most combined votes from both rounds wins the election.”
Asked whether she’s concerned that voters might find the instant-runoff election method confusing, Hopkins said, “Yes.”
“We’re working with the state to implement plans for voter education, how the poll workers will explain this to the voters,” she commented.
Cindy Carawan, Hyde County’s elections director, said, “I think the instructions that the (State Board of Elections) has provided are fairly clear. At least I can understand them. I really don’t think that it’s going to be a major problem.”
Written descriptions of the election method will be handed out at the polls, according to Hopkins and Carawan.
If the instant-runoff method is successful, it could lead to the elimination of costly second primaries, said Carawan.
This year’s second primary, pitting Democratic U.S. Senate candidates Elaine Marshall and Cal Cunningham against one another, cost Hyde County between $10,000 and $12,000, Carawan related.
Just 200 Hyde County voters come out during that second primary, she said.
“If instant-runoff voting could take care of it during the primary, that would be fantastic,” she said.
In other news, Hyde County also will open an additional one-stop voting site, at the Ocracoke Community Building, 999 Irving Garrish Highway.
The satellite site will be open from 9 a.m. until 7 p.m. Oct. 23.
Despite heightened efforts to reach out to and accommodate voters, Hopkins and Carawan forecast low to average turnout this year.
Beaufort County’s elections officials aren’t seeing a normal increase in voter registration ahead of the election, Hopkins said.
Carawan expects turnout will be light, but added she’s hoping voters will surprise her by turning out in droves.