Board of Elections, 20 August 2019

August 21, 2019 Off By Jay Hubbard

The Randolph County Board of Elections met on Tuesday, August 20, in the second floor meeting room of the Historic Randolph County Courthouse. One of two items on their agenda was the ongoing discussion and search for a better, more neutral polling place for the Ramseur Precinct, which includes the entire municipality of Ramseur and parts of the surrounding county. Approximately 2,600 people are registered to vote in our precinct.

During the public comment period Mayor Danny Shaw and Commissioner Cheek pleaded for the board members not to move our polling place, under the mistaken assumption that the movement to relocate our voting location is based only the fact that they both work inside the municipal building on a daily basis. While that is a factor, it is far from the only reason why some citizens began having conversations with Melissa Johnson, director of elections, about problems in Ramseur months, if not years ago.

I addressed the board members during the public comment period as well, but because speakers were limited to two minutes for this meeting, I kept my remarks brief and provided each member and the director with a copy of the following.

At the August 6 meeting or the Randolph County Board of Elections, Ramseur mayor, Danny Shaw, argued against moving our polls, saying that change would create confusion among some citizens. At the same meeting, discussion of an unrelated issue seemed to nullify that line of reasoning.

It was stated that in municipal elections, if a handful of voters live in an outlying precinct but are qualified to vote in a municipal election, the board of elections is legally allowed and does temporarily transfer those voters to an adjacent precinct in order to avoid opening an additional polling location.

That is moving someone’s polling place, and I would argue that since such a move is temporary, and reverts back to another location every other year, that would be far more confusing; yet this is done in some places in our county every other year.

On August 6, Mayor Shaw offered assurances to this board that he and Commissioner Cheek, a town employee, would remain outside the municipal building on election day, but that only addresses part of the problem. 

I know at least one voter was denied the opportunity to cast a provisional ballot in 2015. My sister-in-law’s mother lives on the edge of town, in a house that literally straddles the municipal boundary. On election day 2015 she came to the municipal office to pay her water bill. I spoke to her and asked if she had voted. She said she wasn’t sure if she could. 

A sitting commissioner, who was not up for re-election that year, entered the building with her under the pretense of helping to find out. When she returned she told me that she was not qualified to vote in Ramseur municipal elections. We later discovered that because the part of her house in which she sleeps is within town limits, she was indeed eligible to vote. Had I known then what I know today, I would have insisted she be offered a provisional ballot as is proper in such cases. 

It is my opinion that voting should never take place inside government buildings where candidates and their associates work. Candidates should welcome any effort to eliminate even the appearance of impropriety in our elections. 

I have with me today a petition, signed by about two dozen registered voters in Ramseur precinct. A number of citizens who had privately expressed support for relocating our polling place declined to sign when asked. Several stated that while they support moving the polls to a more neutral location they fear reprisals from those who oppose the idea. Ramseur does have a history of such things happening; all the more reason for this change to be made.

During the August 6 meeting, director Melissa Johnson stated she had looked at several potential sites for a new polling place in Ramseur. One location the director said she favored is the Family Center at First Christian Church. Mrs. Johnson stated that she toured that facility last year when the board was seeking potential early voting sites on the east side of the county. 

The director stated that of all the sites she had inspected, that site was best suited for a polling location. It is my understanding that the folks at First Christian Church were amenable to the idea when they were being considered for a proposed early voting site in 2018.

Moving Ramseur’s polling place would also eliminate a logistical problem I have seen in the past. Elections typically occur on first Tuesdays. Ramseur’s Board of Commissioners meet on first Mondays. Sometimes those meetings are rescheduled to accommodate poll workers, but board members don’t always remember this conflict until it’s too late.

This can result in poll workers being forced to wait to set up the poll until after the commissioners finish, often 9 p.m. or later. That means a very late night for the dedicated souls who make our elections possible. Moving Ramseur’s polling place to a new location would eliminate that problem.

Thank you for considering these important factors when making your decision today.

As you can see, the presence of Mayor Shaw and Mr. Cheek inside the municipal office on election day is far from the top of my list of concerns. I also provided the board members with a petition, containing twenty-five signatures from registered voters in the precinct expressing support for a change of venue.

The board held a lengthy discussion of the issue, and director Melissa Johnson presented a good case for why using our municipal building as a polling place is less than ideal. Other possible locations discussed included Ramseur Elementary School and the Ramseur Fire Station. Both locations had flaws which made them less than ideal as well.

Director Johnson pointed out that Jordan Memorial UMC had refused to allow the use of their buildings, but would continue allowing use of their parking lot as a “gift to the community”. Likewise, First Christian Church, which had enthusiastically expressed a willingness to help, when approached in 2018 as a potential early voting site, reversed course and told the director that they didn’t wish to be “involved in the politics”.

It seemed pretty obvious to this observer that someone must have pressured these organizations to disallow use of their facilities. It is a truly sad moment for our community when a few people can pressure organizations such as these into refusing to help promote fair and honest elections. I, for one, am deeply disturbed by this development.

Hopefully the leadership at Church of God of Prophecy, the other potential location discussed by the Board of Elections last evening, are made of stronger stuff than their spineless neighbors at Jordan and FCC. I find it utterly contemptible that a handful of people in this town seem to have been able to threaten or otherwise coerce the leaders of those churches into refusing to participate in one of our nation’s most sacred institutions: fair elections free of even the hint bias.

Too many people in this town are apparently terrified of progress, despite the claim on our town website saying that Ramseur “a great small community with a progressive, business-friendly climate”.

My idea of progressive might be different from yours, but I think at the very least a progressive community should be one that understands nothing stays the same. People and places that resist change become stagnant and susceptible to rot, and rot is where we find ourselves after many years of the same old people doing the same old things that either never worked well or no longer work at all.

Those who’ve run this town into the ground over the last few decades are unwilling to let go, step aside, and allow the next generation take over. I don’t think anyone involved in this movement to change our voting place has ever said they don’t want to hear anyone else’s ideas, but standing in the way of all progress is a good way to kill a town, and these folks are doing just that.

They insist that moving the polling place is an attempt to steal the election, but when you get accused of doing tricky stuff because the election happens at your office and the same people have been running it for years, wouldn’t you want to prove that isn’t the case?

Ramseur can ever go back to being what it was when the mill was the life of the town, when the firemen all worked there and could leave the plant to respond to an emergency. The world around us has changed, and no amount of wishing will take us back, nor should it. Let’s move forward together and make Ramseur great again. We can respect our past and still embrace the new.

Get involved in your community, show up to meetings, volunteer on a committee, clean up the trash on your street or the next street over. String trim a sidewalk or other public space, bt above all, don’t just sit there in your house and complain about things. Get off your butt and do something for your town.

For now, I record meetings and write, but I’m looking at a few other things I might be able to do after the election. Rest assured, I plan to keep recording Board of Commissioners meetings as long as necessary.

This town didn’t end up this way overnight, and we won’t be able to fix all our problems in one or even two election cycles, but it starts with all of us being open to new ideas and willing to pitch in and try new things.

It does take a village.

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