Second city voting site opens
BY AMELIA HARPER
Friday, October 18, 2019
The issue of the inequity between the starting dates of one-stop early voting in the city of Rocky Mount was resolved Thursday as members of the Nash County Board of Elections met in a three-minute emergency telephone board meeting.
Board members unanimously voted to make Braswell Memorial Library in Rocky Mount available for early voting beginning at 8 a.m. today.
Board member Marvin Arrington made the motion Thursday to open the site at Braswell Memorial Library beginning today. The site will be open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Fridays through Nov. 1, as is the site at the Nash County Agriculture Center in Nashville.
Arrington said the facility now is available thanks to the efforts of board Chairwoman Kelly Shore.
“I would like thank madam Chairwoman Shore for working so hard to get our satellite site at Braswell Library ready sooner than we anticipated,” Arrington said.
The issue of the availability of an early voting site in Rocky Mount has been controversial and garnered statewide attention this week. Normally, Rocky Mount elections would be over by this time and early voting would be in progress only for other municipalities in the Twin Counties that allow early voting.
However, since mayoral candidate Bronson Williams, who placed second in the election, called for a runoff election, both the Nash County Board of Elections and the Edgecombe County Board of Elections had to scramble to open sites in Rocky Mount for that race. Both organizations already had early voting sites open at the board of elections offices in Tarboro and Nashville, but voted earlier this week to open satellite sites in Rocky Mount at the expense of the city.
Early voting at the Rocky Mount site in Edgecombe County began on Wednesday. However, the Nash County Board of Elections had voted to open the Braswell Memorial Library site in Rocky Mount on Oct. 24, citing previous obligations for the use of those rooms as the reason.
Phillip Whitford, assistant director of Braswell Memorial Library, said there was some initial confusion about the use of the rooms as a polling place because library officials were dealing with several members of the board rather than just dealing with Nash County Elections Director John Kearney as they had in the past. But Whitford said the library always is happy to cooperate with the Nash County Board of Elections and is required by law to make the accommodations available.
“We are used as a polling place and when we are notified of the need for the site, we always do what we have to do to make that happen. The rooms were not originally booked by the Nash County Board of Elections for those days, and we did have some other people and groups who were using those rooms,” he said. “But as soon as we were notified by the board of elections that those rooms were needed as an early voting site during this time, we made them available.”
Mayoral candidate Sandy Roberson, who originally lodged protests with the boards of elections of both counties and the State Board of Elections over the issue, said he is satisfied with the decision.
“I am grateful to the Nash County Board of Elections for taking the appropriate action. We did lose two days at that early voting site and that is regrettable, but I am glad that the board acted to level the playing field and make this site available to voters in Nash County,” Roberson told the Telegram.
In a later statement from his campaign office, Roberson said the issue affected a wide group of people and not just his campaign.
“Our concern about the early voting schedule was communicated to the highest levels and was ignored. The concerns impacted both campaigns and other groups such as the Rocky Mount NAACP and the NC-NAACP,” Roberson said.
In an interview published in Thursday’s Telegram, Rocky Mount Councilman Andre Knight, president of the local chapter of the NAACP, said he felt the issue revealed inequities in the system fostered by local Republican leaders. However, he said he is glad to see the situation resolved.
“The vote is sacred to those of us who have been historically denied opportunity and access,” Knight said. “People fought, bled and died for the right to vote. It is sad that we are still having to fight old voter suppression tactics and buy into narratives that the Republican Party, their representatives and leadership did not have a role in trying to deny Nash County voters an equal voice at the polls in this runoff.”
Knight said that once Williams asked for a runoff, both counties should immediately have gone into a mode to prepare for one-stop early voting.
“While we are pleased that early voting in Nash-Rocky Mount starts tomorrow, we are dismayed that so much public pressure had to be exerted to do so,” Knight said. “The NAACP was ready to move quickly to protect the voting rights of eligible citizens. Bottom line is that now everyone knows that Rocky Mount citizens will never support these tactics or be silenced when anyone tries to manipulate elections outcomes unfairly.”
Roberson said he feels that lessons have been learned from the issue.
“The lesson that we all have learned as a result of this is the critical need for the two boards of elections to coordinate to ensure there is equal access to early voting for our citizens in Rocky Mount. This has been a learning process for everyone, and I truly appreciate the board’s efforts to correct the problem and to do so in a timely manner,” Roberson said in a statement.
In the meantime, Roberson said he is focusing on his campaign to win the office of mayor.
“It remains my campaign’s desire to serve the residents of Rocky Mount in a way that promotes unity and prosperity within our community,” he said.