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New law increases costs for county’s early voting locations

A new law regarding early voting has the Beaufort County Board of Elections seeking additional funds from the county to comply with the new law.

Earlier this year, the N.C. General Assembly passed the new law that requires boards of elections to implement a uniform early voting schedule for the upcoming Nov. 6 general election. Under the law, all early voting sites must be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays. In the past, local elections boards had some discretion in setting their early voting schedules.

Previously, the early voting schedule for satellite sites in Beaufort County differed from the schedule for the early voting site at the Beaufort County Board of Elections offices. Under the schedule mandated by the new law, it will cost the county more money to follow that schedule.

The board is seeking $30,000 from the county to cover the difference between what the board budgeted for operating early voting sites this fall. The board had budgeted $15,360. During the board’s meeting Tuesday, Kellie Harris Hopkins, the county’s elections director, explained the mandate caused an estimated $22,000 shortfall. The mandated schedule requires more elections workers to cover the additional hours the early voting sites are open, she said.

Hopkins presented the board a breakdown of the cost to operate the early voting sites — board office, Aurora, Belhaven and Chocowinity — this fall. “It is not as bad as I thought it was. We are going to try … not to have overtime. There may be a little bit of overtime,” she said.

Board members voiced concerns with overtime pay. They also noted the estimate for elections workers’ pay did not include other expenses such as training, taxes and FICA payments.

Board member Alice Mills Sadler called the early voting schedule imposed by the new law an “unfunded mandate.”

“They (General Assembly) cookie-cut something that a lot of boards are not going to be able to afford,” she said.

The four-member board voted unanimously to ask the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners at its August meeting to provide the additional $30,000. The board believes that amount will cover the increased cost for operating the early voting sites.

“We’ve to a reason to go back (to the county for more money). The legislature did it to us. If we go back a second time, we did it,” board member Tom Payne said.

Hopkins’ calculations show the following costs for operating the three satellite sites for 14 days during the early voting period: Aurora, $9,030.64; Belhaven, $9,520.64 and Chocowinity, $8,504.64. Hopkins said the final costs for each site could change based on several factors, including being able to reduce the number of workers at the sites because of lulls in voter turnout.

 

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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