Precinct may be saved

Published 8:15 pm Wednesday, February 22, 2012

An offer by Free Union Free Will Baptist Church to use its fellowship hall as a place to vote likely will mean the Hunter’s Bridge precinct will not be dissolved.
During a meeting at the Beaufort County Board of Elections office Tuesday night, church spokesman Tommy Webster said the church is willing to let the fellowship hall be used as a polling place (for the May 8 primary) to replace the one destroyed by an apparent arson last spring. Webster said the church also is willing to allow an adjacent building (a former Scout hut) to be used as a polling place after the May 8 primary.
“The (church) board unanimously agreed to offer Free Union Church’s fellowship hall for voting,” Webster told the board and a small group of precinct officials and precinct residents. “Sunday morning we took a straw poll of the members present. They were 100 percent in favor of allowing you to use our facilities for the May primary.”
Kellie Harris Hopkins, the county’s elections director, will inspect the proffered facilities to determine if they meet polling-place standards and comply with the federal Americans With Disabilities Act. If they meet those requirements, the Board of Elections indicated it would adopt a resolution that would begin the process of moving the precinct’s polling place to the church, which is located at the intersection of Free Union Church Road and Jones Bridge Road.
Hopkins will present the results of her inspection when the board meets at 2 p.m. Tuesday, when it will consider adopting the resolution.
Webster said the church’s fellowship hall is ADA certified.
Under the proposal to use the church as the polling place, the church would be paid $150 for each use. That’s in line with what the board pays to use other buildings as polling places, Hopkins said.
Others who attended the meeting and spoke before Webster presented the church’s offer made it clear they did not want the board to dissolve the precinct. An option before the board called for dissolving the precinct and moving some of the precinct’s voters in the Pantego precinct and the precinct’s remaining voters in the Woodard’s Pond precinct. The supporters of keeping Hunter’s Bridge precinct intact said a significant number of older voters likely would not drive to polling places in Pantego and Woodard’s Pond precincts to vote.
“I don’t see any reason not to keep it there,” board member Jim Vosburgh said about retaining the Hunter’s Bridge precinct.
Board Chairman Tom Payne, noting the May 8 primary is just weeks away, said the board needs to act quickly to resolve the issue.
“We’ve got to get out of that burned-out building,” Payne said.
Payne, Vosburgh and Archie Haring, the board’s third member and its secretary, indicated they will accept the church’s offer if its facilities meet the required standards and ADA requirements.
Moving the polling place will require approval of the U.S. Justice Department, which should not be a problem, Hopkins said.
Hopkins was referring to the Justice Department’s regulation regarding any election changes in North Carolina counties covered under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Section 5 requires “preclearance” of election changes in counties affected by said section of the act, which was designed to guarantee equal voting rights for minorities. In North Carolina, 40 counties are subject to the preclearance mandate, including Beaufort County.
News Editor Jonathan Clayborne contributed to this article.

About Mike Voss

Mike Voss is the contributing editor at the Washington Daily News. He has a daughter and four grandchildren. Except for nearly six years he worked at the Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Va., in the early to mid-1990s, he has been at the Daily News since April 1986.
Journalism awards:
• Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service, 1990.
• Society of Professional Journalists: Sigma Delta Chi Award, Bronze Medallion.
• Associated Press Managing Editors’ Public Service Award.
• Investigative Reporters & Editors’ Award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Public Service Award, 1989.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Investigative Reporting, 1990.
All those were for the articles he and Betty Gray wrote about the city’s contaminated water system in 1989-1990.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Investigative Reporting, 1991.
• North Carolina Press Association, Third Place, General News Reporting, 2005.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Lighter Columns, 2006.
Recently learned he will receive another award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Lighter Columns, 2010.
4. Lectured at or served on seminar panels at journalism schools at UNC-Chapel Hill, University of Maryland, Columbia University, Mary Washington University and Francis Marion University.

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