Laura Meadows, GUEST COLUMNIST
Their victim this time are voters who use the state’s popular Early Voting period. Wielding Senate Bill 325, they’ve slashed early voting in all 100 of the state’s counties, affecting all voters, whether Republican or Democrat, black or white, urban or rural.
The bill would keep a 17-day early voting period but shift the period to begin on a Wednesday and to end on the Friday before Election Day, explicitly killing one of the most popular days, the final Saturday.
Nearly 200,000 North Carolinians voted on the Saturday before Election Day in 2016. And, while the largest numbers of these voters are in more urban, populous, and racially diverse counties such as Wake, Mecklenburg, and Guilford, S.B. 325 will affect significant percentages of rural, white voters in places like Harnett, Yadkin, and Surry counties, too.
For example, folks in Harnett cast 17.2 percent of their early vote on the Last Saturday. More than 11 percent of Caswell voters did the same, as well as 8.3 percent in Surry.
Additionally, it would dictate to counties the hours polls must remain open, specifically in 12-hour blocks of time, removing the judgment of local election boards regarding the most convenient hours for citizens in their local communities to vote.
Additionally, it dictates to counties the hours polls must remain open, specifically 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekdays, tying up resources on potentially less popular voting days and removing the judgment of local election boards regarding the most convenient hours for citizens in their local communities to vote. The result will likely mean fewer weekend hours when so many working families cast their ballots.
Why? Local county leaders understand their communities, they know when people are most likely to use early voting sites. Mandating 12-hour windows during weekdays wastes time and money. Why not let local officials determine the best use of their counties’ limited resources?
In fact, why take poplar opportunities to cast a ballot away from any North Carolina voter?
Proponents of the bill cite the need to standardize early voting periods. Rep. David Lewis, a Harnett County Republican, argued that the bill simply provides a “uniform platform” for voters.
But a uniform platform that all 100 counties must follow, whether most of their voters work in the service industry, on farms, or in corporate office buildings, is a solution without a problem. Here in Buncombe County, for instance, our local election board must consider the needs of service and tourism workers, students, and retirees. That could mean additional hours on weekends or an extra-long Monday to accommodate restaurant workers. Admittedly, I’m not an election administrator and don’t know for sure. But, neither are politicians in Raleigh. I do know our local board has a better idea of what we need than faraway legislators with a growing resume of keeping people from the polls.
It’s as if the Republican leadership has been so intent on restricting access to the ballot for so long, they just cannot stop. Like zombies they move forward, making it harder for people to vote, this time by senselessly killing off some of the most used early voting hours, in addition to efforts to revive voter ID and gerrymander the judiciary.
Jason and Freddie would be so proud.
Laura Meadows is an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina at Asheville. Her writings focus on the intersections of media, politics, and social movements, specifically in the context of the American South.