Fleming El-Amin took a deep breath Tuesday before offering his support for an early voting plan for the November election.
As the only Democrat on the Forsyth County Board of Elections, El-Amin’s vote meant the Republican-led board got unanimous approval for a compromise plan orchestrated by Stuart Russell, the board’s secretary.
The plan, which will now be sent to the N.C. State Board of Elections for final approval, did not include Winston-Salem State University’s Anderson Center or Winston Lake YMCA – options El-Amin had suggested for an eastern Winston-Salem site – but it did include Sunday voting.
“I thought the final plan was a good compromise, especially to have Sunday voting again,” El-Amin said afterward.
Early voting is Oct. 23 to Nov. 1.
Under the plan, early voting would be offered at the elections office downtown and nine satellite sites: Kernersville Senior Center, Clemmons Library, Lewisville Library, Walkertown Library, Old Town Recreation Center, Sedge Garden Recreation Center, Mazie Woodruff Center, South Fork Recreation Center and Polo Park Recreation Center.
Brown & Douglas Recreation Center is the alternate if South Fork is not available, which interim elections director Lamar Joyner said is a possibility.
The plan does not include Rural Hall Library or Southside Library, which had appeared on both Chairman Ken Raymond and El-Amin’s proposals.
The final decision came more than two hours into the 11 a.m. meeting, and after several people had already left. Twelve people addressed the board earlier in the meeting, most criticizing Raymond’s proposal and calling for more city sites.
Russell, a local attorney, used his negotiating skills to convince Raymond and El-Amin to make some concessions. He said after the meeting that it was important to work for a unanimous decision.
“I thought it was possible, and I think it’s important for the public to see,” Russell said.
Russell and Raymond had the upper-hand as the Republican majority. In the spring, the Republican-led state board sided with the majority plan over El-Amin’s separate proposal.
“If we aren’t able to reach a unanimously approved plan, it’s possible that the chair and I could agree upon a plan that is not as favorable to what you’re looking for and in the compromise,” Russell told El-Amin during site discussions.
The final plan was based on a site list Russell suggested after reviewing Raymond and El-Amin’s proposals, with the addition of Polo Park.
El-Amin questioned the need for voting sites in Clemmons and Lewisville. Raymond was prepared to concede his Clemmons recommendation in favor of Lewisville, but Russell stuck to his proposal.
Clemmons resident PJ Lofland, who advocated for Raymond’s plan in the comment period, said she thought the final plan was a good one.
“I think they’ve got them pretty well spaced around the county. … I think it’s fair to everybody,” she said.
But the sentiment was not unanimous.
Jimmy Boyd, second vice chairman of the Forsyth County Democratic Party, said in the comment session that the chairman’s proposed sites would not adequately serve eastern Winston-Salem, and he was still not pleased with the final plan.
“Our African American community has been hurt,” Boyd said.
He was disappointed that WSSU will not be utilized as it was in 2010.
WSSU got little attention in the meeting. Last week college students from N.C. State University, Wake Forest University and Salem College asked the board to consider college voting sites and to extend voting hours.
Raymond stressed that he was aiming for sites to be at least 5 miles apart, and WSSU is just more than a mile from the downtown elections office. He said having sites close together was an unwise use of resources.
The final plan still has more overlap than Raymond wanted, but he said it was time to move on.
The plan will offer voting until 7 p.m. a few days at satellite sites and from 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday at the elections office, a combination of elements from a few schedules proposed by staff.
Raymond wanted to stick to the 7 p.m. plan without altering it to add Sunday voting as El-Amin requested, but Russell said the board should add Sunday voting if the board could also agree on sites. El-Amin tried to take a separate vote on hours alone, but his motion was not supported.
Assistant County Attorney Lonnie Albright originally told the board that election law had done away with Sunday voting but later said the final bill approved last year left the door open.
The county’s plans could change if U.S. District Court Judge Thomas D. Schroeder decides to grant a preliminary injunction blocking many of the provisions from last year’s sweeping elections law. Several organizations have challenged the law.
One of the provisions shortens the early voting period by a week but requires counties to offer the same total number of early voting hours it did in 2010, which led the Forsyth County board to add a few additional satellite sites to meet its required 423 hours.