Caution: Elections May Cause Confusion

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Whether voters prefer the excitement of standing in line on Election Day or would rather vote ahead of
the crowds, casting a ballot is so easy, a 17-year-old could do it.

But this year, many voters are going to be confused about which elections they can vote in and for which races, said Gary Sims, deputy director of the Wake County Board of Elections. Some Wake County residents will vote Oct. 11. Some will vote Nov. 8. And some people won’t have an election to vote in at all this year.

According to Sims, most of the confusion is caused by different election dates and races. Candidates on the ballots this year are either city or town leaders or school board members. Some ballots will have both.

Another part of the problem is the redistricting that took place as a result of last year’s census — some voters may have changed districts without realizing it.

“Sometimes people are confused in what district they’re eligible to vote. Some people will not have an election whatsoever,” he said. “It’s very understandable.” Sims explained, for example, that a person may have a Raleigh address, but her home might not technically sit inside city limits.

In that case, she wouldn’t see any city or town council candidates on her ballot.

“That would be a perfect example of how people get confused,” he said. “The only thing you may see on your ballot is a school board election.”

But not all of the school board districts are up for reelection this year — only Districts 3, 4, 5, 6 and 8. Those who live outside city or town limits in School Board Districts 1, 7 or 9 will not vote at all.

And while Raleigh voters go to the polls Oct. 11, other Wake County municipalities vote Nov. 8. If the October election results in a runoff, some voters will be asked to visit the polls twice.

Sims’ advice? Check the State Board of Elections website to find out whether you need to vote and when.

For those whose districts have elections this year, there are multiple options for voting by mail or in person — early, or on election day itself. But no matter how you vote, just do it, said Damon Circosta, executive director of the North Carolina Center for Voter Education.

“One of things about living in a democracy is we always talk about the expectations we have for our government, but the government is us,” Circosta said. “We have to make sure we’re providing effective oversight to our elected officials by voting and staying informed.”

Many people feel as though their vote doesn’t count, Circosta said, but that’s not true.

“Especially in municipal elections, your vote has a tremendous impact,” he said. “Voting is one of the most important things we do in civil society.”

Some voters complain about long lines on Election Day, but they have fewer excuses for not voting,
since the advent of early voting in 2000.

According to the Board of Elections’ Gary Sims, early turnout for municipal elections like this year’s are typically lower. Only 2,106 people voted early in the 2009 October election.

In contrast, more than 251,000 people cast ballots at one of the 15 early voting sites in the 2008 general election.

“It’s definitely the best way,” Sims said.

But Sims acknowledges there might be an even better way to vote — absentee.

“There, all it will cost you is postage to send it in,” he said.

Absentee is the least popular option “but it is very routinely used by certain people,” Sims said.

“It’s one of those things; once people start voting absentee by mail, they do it more frequently.”

Voters who will be out of the country, or who would rather just vote from the comfort of home can request an absentee ballot without a reason. But that voter or a near relative must provide a signed letter either in person or by mail — not email — to the Board of Elections.

Of course, voters can visit the polls on Election Day Oct. 11. For some, like Circosta, that’s the fun way to vote.

“I’m a voting nerd,” he said. “To me voting is like the prom; I like to get down to my precinct on Election Day to the extent I can.”

How to Vote
Not registered? It’s possible to register and vote the same day as part of Early Voting.

Early Voting
Early voting for the October election: Sept. 22 — 1 p.m. Oct. 8

Wake County locations:
Wake County Board of Elections, 337 S. Salisbury St., Raleigh
Sept. 22–23 (Th, F) — 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Sept. 26–Oct. 7 (M-F) — 8:30 a.m.–5 p.m.
Sat. Oct. 8 — 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Herbert C. Young Community Center, 101 Wilkinson Ave., Cary
Oct. 5–7 (W-F) — 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Sat. Oct. 8 — 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Election Day Voting
Polls open: 6:30 a.m. — 7:30 p.m.
Find local polling places at on the Board of Elections website

Absentee Voting
Ballot request letters are due by 5 p.m. Oct. 4. No emails accepted.
The letter must include:
• Request Statement (“I am requesting an absentee ballot for the _______ Election.”)
• Name of voter
• Residential address of voter
• Address where ballot should be mailed (if different from residential address)
• Date of birth of voter
• Telephone number
• Signature of voter or near relative (indicate relationship with voter)
Attach postage to the ballot and return it by Election Day.

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