So I called the Orange County Board of Elections to see how early voting was going this week, and let me tell you, it was not going well.
According to the director Tracy Reams, as of this past Tuesday – after a week of early voting – here was the situation: “We’re below the turnout for any past years that we have on record.”
You might call it a disgrace if you’re so inclined. The so-called “infamous Voter ID law” is not supposed to go into effect until 2016; it is a law criticized for possibly suppressing the vote, especially early voting. Yet here we are already ignoring our right to early voting.
We’re not even Boone yet, the university mountain town where the local GOP is determined to move the polling place off the university campus. There have been four places to early vote in our county: the Rams Hall Dining Room on the Carolina campus, Seymour Center in Chapel Hill, Carrboro Town Hall and the Orange County Board of Elections in Hillsborough. Tax-payer money pays to keep these places open, and it seems nearly a waste.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re talking about municipal elections in any of Orange County’s three biggest towns – Chapel Hill, Carrboro or Hillsborough; turnout has been dismal. The highest daily count of early voters, according to Reams, was 147. But on some days, as few as seven people showed up. In contrast, Reams said in a presidential election year, each of the individual early-voting sites might see as many as 1,000 voters per day. In a general-election year, approximately 50 percent of voters vote early.
What’s so odd about this election is the stakes couldn’t be higher.
There is a feeling among some in Chapel Hill that the town risks losing any sense of identity or place. Carrboro, on the other hand, seems hard-pressed to give equal weight to its northern neighborhoods in contrast to its downtown advocates. There is evidence, in fact, that these neighborhoods are poorly represented on advisory committees, despite the tax base they provide.
It doesn’t help, of course, that the mayors of Chapel Hill and Carrboro are running unopposed, save for late inning write-in candidate Thomas Henkel, a past treasurer of the Orange County Democratic Party. According to his biography, Henkel has lived in Chapel Hill since 1998 after moving here from New York City. Currently, he does solar energy and energy-efficiency work, and he is a retired physics professor from Wagner College.
Whatever your political leanings or party affiliation, and whatever person you plan to vote for, as Susan B. Anthony once said: “Suffrage is the pivotal right.”
Alas, early voting ended on Saturday, but you still have another chance! Election Day is this Tuesday, Nov. 5, and polls open at 6:30 a.m. and close 7:30 p.m. Voters should go to their local precincts.
Get out and vote, people!
Linda Haac lives in Carrboro.