The Forsyth County Board of Elections hammered out a compromise plan on Monday that returns early voting to the campus of Winston-Salem State University for the first time since 2010.
By a unanimous vote, the three Democrats and two Republicans on the five-member board approved a plan that calls for 11 early-voting sites during early voting before the March 3 primary.
Democrats on the elections board made it clear from the outset that they would vote for no plan that didn’t include early voting at WSSU.
Although Democrats also wanted early voting at the Miller Park Community Center, in the end they dropped that plea, and backed off as well from having any early voting on a Sunday.
“We almost got everything we wanted,” said Susan Campbell, the Democrat chairing the five-member board, when the meeting was over.
When Republicans held a majority on the board, they had nixed early voting at WSSU because of complaints that Democrats had engaged in on-campus electioneering at the historically-black university.
“It is big,” Campbell said, referring to the impact of getting back the WSSU polling place at the Anderson Center on campus. “They have been asking for eight years.”
A number of speakers rose during the election board’s public comment period to ask for early voting at WSSU, along with Sunday voting. One speaker, Heather MacKenzie, said that students on a college campus have enough to deal with keeping up with their studies.
“The last thing they need to think about is how they are going to get to the polls,” she said.
GOP elections board member Stuart Russell had signaled last week that he was willing to back an early-voting site at WSSU if the Democrats made concessions as well.
There was no controversy over most of the sites approved by the panel. But with attention focused on getting to 11 sites, the question came down to which ones would be left out after WSSU made the cut.
The Democratic concession turned out to be the Miller Park site, which Democrats initially proposed on Monday because of large numbers who have taken part in early voting there.
Russell at one point suggested Harper Hill Commons as an early voting site — a location in more Republican-leaning territory — but it turned out that there was no immediate prospect of getting a site there: Elections officials said their attempts to contact the shopping center management had not borne fruit.
Democratic elections board member Catherine Jourdan proposed adding Miller Park and dropping Polo Park, before withdrawing her motion.
Jourdan promised that early voting at Miller Park would be back up for discussion next year, when the elections board has to decide on where early-voting sites will be during the general election.
People in the audience, who had spoken mostly in favor of the early-voting sites favored by Democrats, grumbled some over the result when the compromise plan dropped Miller Park and Sunday voting.
Democrats could have forced their position on a party-line vote, but a split vote would have taken the question to the N.C. State Board of Elections. Campbell pointed out that Democrats have a majority there too, but said she preferred a compromise that all the members here could agree on.
It’s not entirely clear yet when early voting will actually start for the March 3 primary: As the law now stands, it would begin on Feb. 12 and end on Feb. 28. A bill is before the General Assembly that would change the time frame so that early voting starts on Feb. 13 and ends on Feb. 29 — that last day being the last Saturday before the primary.