By Wesley Brown
Tuesday, February 26, 2013
With the 2013 municipal election looming, Greenville City Council members extended olive branches on Monday, reaching a compromise to fund an additional early-voting site at the Drew Steele Center.
The selection, which requires approval by the Pitt County Board of Elections and U.S. Department of Justice, came at the expense of East Carolina University, a proposed polling location some said they thought was being eyed by potential candidates as a way to use the “very eager” student vote to influence the election.
The claim has been the focus of a three-year debate — which resumed last week — on who should decide where polling sites go.
After 30 minutes of deliberation on Monday, the council, unanimously approved the Drew Steele Center, a centrally located handicap-accessible recreational facility with ample parking and city bus access.
District 3 Councilwoman Marion Blackburn had advocated for the center, saying it is a polling site that “genuinely allows everyone to vote.”
“I think what it really comes down to is a fear that the location of a site on the ECU campus could lead to students tipping the votes,” at-large Councilman Dennis Mitchell said. “I do not share those fears and the site at the Drew Steele Center, I can go with it.”
Mitchell seconded a motion by District 5 Councilman Max Joyner to scrap the idea of an ECU polling place in favor of the Drew Steele Center as the 2013 municipal election’s fourth early-voting site. Other sites are the Pitt Area Transit Conference Room, the Pitt County Agricultural Center and the Community Schools building.
At a budgeted cost of $2,900, the city will fund the Steele Center site from Oct. 28 through Nov. 2, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Joyner said the basis of his suggestion was a memo by Dave Davis, director of the Pitt County Board of Elections, stating that the use of ECU’s Mendenhall Student Center as a one-stop polling station during the 2012 presidential election “did not prove to be an ideal location … because curbside voting was too far away and the room was too small and difficult to find.”
Davis added that the bigger problem with a ECU location is that the N.C. University System dictates that rooms cannot be booked on campus by outside agencies until after the 10th day of classes, meaning confirmation could not be made until September, past the July 12 deadline to submit approval request to the Department of Justice.
District 4 Councilman Calvin Mercer offered dissent to Joyner’s motion.
Mercer tried but failed to strike a “friendly amendment” with Joyner. Instead of recommending a particular site, Mercer wanted to provide criteria for an early-voting site to the Board of Elections and have it choose.
“I am uncomfortable with picking a particular site,” Mercer said. “My own preference would be to leave these decisions up to the Board of Elections.”
Mercer’s criteria was an additional site that was centrally located, convenient for students and the general public, on the city bus line, handicap accessible and had adequate parking. Blackburn was the only council member to support the amendment.
“To me, it is just plain politics,” Joyner said of the suggestion. “We are abiding by the (Board of Elections) instructions. This debate is an old hat that is contentious every time.”
Joyner said his goal was to get more people to vote in a municipal election that saw only 18 percent of its voters cast ballots.
Mercer said council disapproval of his amendment put him in “a bit of a quandary.”
“I am simply trying to keep the process non-political and as pure as possible,” Mercer said.
Some members of council said they found Mercer’s comment objectionable.
Mitchell said that minus himself and Mayor Allen Thomas, all members on the council have approved an additional early-voting site in each of the past two municipal elections.
Blackburn said she shared Mercer’s sense of discomfort, but both elected to support the Steele site for its convenient qualities.
Blackburn said the polling place even includes a perk.
“You can bring your tennis racket,” she said “and before or after you vote, play a game of tennis.”
via The Daily Reflector.