Board of Elections Has “Statutory Responsibility” to Split Precincts

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Board of Elections members said Monday they might have to “lawyer up” in preparation for a battle with the Wake County Commission over creating new voting precincts.

The Wake County Board of Elections agreed Monday to create 12 additional precincts — one week after Wake Commissioners said they would supply funding for only two extra precincts.

During a budget work session June 13, Commissioners told Board of Elections members they didn’t have the funding for the requested 12.

Board of Elections Secretary Aida Doss Havel said the board is mandated by state statute to make such decisions. That authority does not lie with county officials, she said.

“It is not the county manager’s responsibility to decide,” she told the commission.

Despite emphasis on who has the authority, Election Board members said Monday they do not want a fight.

“I’m not spoiling for a fight, and I don’t want a fight, but the ultimate end result of what I’m saying is to have a fight, so I’m conflicted,” Havel said.

The Elections Board has drafted a request to the County Commission asking that creation costs for 10 more precincts be paid for using a portion of the reimbursements that municipalities would pay back after the 2011 elections.

“Maybe we can even craft it in some resolution that says ‘understanding that the county has difficult financial burdens right now, and understanding money is tight everywhere and make it that we’re not trying to poke you in the eye, but understanding that it’s our statutory responsibility and we believe it’s important to split these precincts,’” Havel said.

Still, if the County Commissioners say, “no,” Elections Deputy Director Gary Sims told board members, “I highly recommend that we obtain council other than Wake County council at that time.”

In other words, the elections board may need to get its own lawyer.

Of Wake County’s 198 precincts, 83 contain more than 3,000 people. Havel said they aim to have about 3,000 people per precinct to prevent long waits and parking issues. One of the biggest problems is Precinct 20-02, which contains more than 9,000 voters in the western part of the county around Cary and Morrisville.

Sims said they are considering the split of eight precincts, with the largest being split multiple times. Each precinct will then contain fewer than 6,000 voters.

The estimated cost of precinct creation is $262,630. This includes initial purchases for tabulators and supplies, voter notification costs, and pollworker staffing costs. Most are one-time costs, except for pollworker costs for each election.

Sims said the board could pay for smaller expenses, such as sending notices to voters, but it couldn’t pay for larger expenses, such as equipment.

More Early Voting Sites

The board also discussed adding more early voting sites.

“It was clear from the county manager’s discussions that, in his recommendation to the commissioners, he felt that early voting sites would have alleviated the congestion at polling places,” said Director of Elections Cherie Poucher.

Sims said two early voting locations are planned for October, one in Cary and one at the Board of Elections office. Three are planned for November, in Cary, Garner and at the Board of Elections office, if Cary has a run-off election.

“No matter what you do, you can make an early voting site, but you would never relieve Election Day turnout,” Sims said.

Nine early voting sites, one at the Board of Elections office and eight at undetermined sites, are planned for the May 2012 presidential primary.

Sims said $677,448 has been approved for the early voting sites.

Havel said early voting sites are a “Band-Aid solution” and that splitting precincts is now necessary to accommodate voters.

“I see the need, and I think every minute that we delay this, we’re getting further and further behind. And if it were not an upcoming presidential year, maybe I would be okay with punting a little bit, but we’ve got to get ready for next year,” Havel said.

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