Board votes down Sunday voting

Hawkins to submit alternate plan to state board

By Kevin Spradlin

* Tentative early voting schedule

ROCKINGHAM — The Richmond County Board of Elections voted 2-1 on Tuesday not to offer Sunday voting in the general election this fall.

Carlton Hawkins, a Democrat and board secretary, made a motion to modify the 113-hour schedule to allow for three hours of voting from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 26. Republican members A.B. Brown, chairman, and Ernie Walters were opposed to the idea and Hawkins’ motion died for lack of a second.

Kevin Spradlin | Richmond County Board of Elections members A.B. Brown, Ernie Walters and Carlton Hawkins (from left to right) listen to members of the public during a public meeting Tuesday in downtown Rockingham.

Kevin Spradlin |
Richmond County Board of Elections members A.B. Brown, Ernie Walters and Carlton Hawkins (from left to right), along with Connie Kelly, director, listen to members of the public during a public meeting Tuesday in downtown Rockingham.

The issue is not yet settled, however. Hawkins said he planned to submit his alternate plan to the state Board of Elections by the end of the month. There, board members will weigh in on the issue. However, Hawkins wasn’t optimistic.

“They’ll reject it,” said Hawkins, a Democrat, of the Republican-controlled state board. Hawkins’ proposal includes shaving off an hour of voting from all three early voting precincts to allow for three hours of Sunday voting.

The board must provide voters a minimum of 113 hours of early voting and, due to a change in state law, must do so in five fewer days’ time this November election.

Hawkins said his argument in favor of Sunday voting was that it was done in Richmond County successfully for the 2012 presidential election. A total of 571 Richmond County voters cast their ballot on Sunday — or only 0.06 percent of the 10,372 votes cast in that general election.

“It worked well” in 2012, Hawkins said and referred to a countywide petition through which “an impressive number of people … asked for this service.”

The three-member board and Connie Kelly, elections director, listened to comments from the public for about 15 minutes before a board discussion and vote. Much of the conversation focused between freedom to practice religion on the Sunday in question, on one side, and access to the polls on the other.

“We’re all Christian people here in Richmond County,” said Tony Martin. “I think we’d all be opposed to it.”

Dr. Perry Comer noted that he regularly votes at Wolf Pit No. 4, located at Ellerbe Grove Baptist Church. He was concerned about interrupted regular Sunday services at that or any church.

“I don’t think those folks want to suspend their services to allow for voting on a Sunday,” Comer said. “You have to take that into consideration.”

It was noted, however, that Sunday voting wouldn’t take place but a single location — The North Carolina Cooperative Extension Office, at 123 Caroline St. in downtown Rockingham. Still, Comer suggested it would disrupt regular church services in the county.

“Why is it even necessary to consider voting on Sunday,” Comer asked.

Brown said because it had been requested and advocated for, including Alyce Calmore. The Hamlet resident said it has nothing to do with religion.

“I think voting on Sunday is an excellent idea,” Calmore said. “There are people who can only vote maybe on Sunday. If it somehow interferes with your religious belief, then you don’t have to vote. If you start legislating on things in the Bible, there’s a lot of things people shouldn’t be doing on Sunday, but they do them anyway.”

“If you’re offended at people voting on Sunday, then that’s you,” Calmore said.

Calmore noted that churches can assist in arranging transportation to the polls.

“You want to make it as convenient for people as possible,” she said, “so that everybody has an option to be able to vote. We should be trying to get everybody out to the polls to vote, no matter what day it is. Sometimes, Sunday is the most convenient day” if someone, for example, is relying on a ride.

Martin suggested it was only “a small group of people that want voting on Sunday.”

“there’s more people in this county who would like to go to church on Sunday,” he said.

Lee Quick, president of the Richmond County Democratic Party but speaking Tuesday as an individual, recalled that Sunday voting in the 2012 presidential election “was one of the more popular days (of early voting).”

“There were a lot of people who went to church first, left church and went to vote,” said Quick, of Hamlet. “I think that was convenient.”

Advocates for Sunday voting noted that “it’s not required that you vote on Sunday” but at least the option is extended to those who wanted it.

Dan Moody, of the Richmond County Republican Party, said he worked the polls in 2012 and “noticed that employees were forced to make a choice, either giving up their employment” or religious beliefs for a day.

Carolyn Perry, of Marston, said the discussion should remain focused on “the reason that we’re asking for Sunday voting. We all have a right, a responsibility … to have an opportunity to place our vote. That’s the only thing that we’re asking for.”

* The Board of Elections approved on Tuesday moving the early voting precinct for downtown Rockingham from the Board of Elections office on Hancock Street to the N.C. Cooperative Extension Office at 123 Caroline St.

* Board members also agreed to modify the originally proposed schedule of 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. to 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Cooperative Extension location on the following days of early voting: Oct. 23, Oct. 24, Oct. 27, Oct. 28, Oct. 29, Oct. 30 and Oct. 31.


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