The Forsyth County Board of Elections couldn’t find an early-voting plan on Tuesday that all four board members liked, so the board will meet next week to try again.
A unanimous decision is important because without that, the state elections board would instead come up with its own plan for the county to use in this November’s general election.
The period of early voting this year runs from Oct. 17 to Nov. 3. Election day is Tuesday, Nov. 6.
The four-member local board will meet again next Tuesday to try to agree on a plan. Tim Tsujii, the director of elections in Forsyth County, told the board that he needs a decision on early-voting sites and hours by July 20 to avoid the state stepping in.
The elections board has two Democrats and two Republicans, so getting a unanimous vote will require cross-party cooperation. Even a 3-1 vote in favor of some early-voting plan would kick the issue to the state, Tsujii told the members.
Susan Campbell, the Democratic chair of the local elections board, on Tuesday proposed an 11-site plan. Robert Durrah Jr., another Democrat on the board, said he would like to go to as many as 12 early-voting sites.
Stewart Russell, a Republican who is vice chair of the board, suggested 10 sites. Later in the meeting, Campbell offered 10 sites if the Republicans would agree to have early voting on all three Saturdays during the early-voting period.
Russell said he needed to think about it.
“I need a little more time to run these numbers,” Russell said, referring to the costs of running the early voting.
Tsujii said after Tuesday’s meeting that he estimates it would take about $272,000 to run a 10-site early-voting plan with voting on at least two Saturdays. An 11-site plan would cost about $299,999 and 12 sites would cost $326,000.
Tsujii could have almost $350,000 to run early voting if the county decides to allow that amount by agreeing to let the elections board spend money that was set aside for a second primary but not needed.
Still, Russell and John Loughridge, the other GOP member, said they worried about the costs. Russell added that if all the money were spent, it could limit the amount of money for future early-voting needs. Loughridge said he thought too many sites and hours of operation would stress elections staff.
Tsujii said after the meeting that his staff can handle anything the board decides:
“With the last presidential election, we had 17 sites with all of them open the last week,” Tsujii said. “There are challenges, but it is nothing they can’t overcome.”
Durrah, speaking on the money-saving point, said he was willing to let the future decide how much early-voting money might then be available.
Although many of the possible sites seem likely by consensus — including branch libraries in the perimeter towns and some of the typically-used recreation centers closer in — the members of the elections board haven’t nailed down every site that might be considered.
Many speakers in the audience, talking to the elections board during the public comment period, advocated a return of early voting to Winston-Salem State University. Early voting there has been a sore point between the parties for years, because of past allegations of favoritism to Democrats.
“Students are disenfranchised,” said WSSU student William Gibson, adding that students can’t “sit on the sidelines and let people who do not look like us make these decisions.”
The Rev. Paul Ford, pastor of First Baptist Church on Highland Avenue, appealed for the elections board to allow early voting on at least one Sunday, so that churches could encourage voters to go to the polls.
But Beverly Lung told the elections board that too many hours would create the potential for too many mistakes by elections staffers.
Tsujii said that he had talked to WSSU officials and had discovered that it could be challenging to hold early voting at the university because of homecoming activities taking place around the same time.
WSSU Chancellor Elwood Robinson, contacted after the elections board meeting, suggested that a way might be found to make early voting possible at WSSU after all.
“I hate to speak out of turn, but off the top of my head there is no reason we couldn’t make some arrangement,” he said.