Early voting begins Thursday

Early voters may see longer lines at the polls this year because of cuts in state funding, election officials say.

Catawba County voters will be limited to one early voting site in Newton this year, compared to multiple locations in past years.

Early voting, which starts Thursday, has traditionally been at the Highland Recreation Center in Hickory, in addition to the county’s Main Library in Newton. However, due to funding cuts from the state, the Catawba County Board of Elections is unable to open the Hickory site this year, said Larry Brewer, director at the Catawba County Board of Elections.

“For people who live in the Hickory area, I think the voting people are going to miss it, because now they are going to have to drive to Newton,” Brewer said recently. “This may cause some lines at the library, but we ask people to be patient. By all means, vote. It may take more time, but still have the patience and cast your ballot.”

The state continues to freeze about $4 million in federal funds that has assisted counties with election operations since 2000.

Brewer said Help America Voter Act (HAVA) funds typically cover the cost of voting machine maintenance, poll worker training and early voting sites, including the site in Hickory. Those funds can’t be released, though, until the state allocates an additional $664,000 to the State Board of Elections to meet federal guidelines.

At the state level, the N.C. General Assembly cut more than $1 million from the State Board of Elections' $6 million budget this year. The cuts led to the elimination of 14 positions, including eight technicians who helped elections officials in all 100 counties statewide.

“They were district technicians, and our district was about 12 counties. They helped us communicate at the state level,” Brewer said. “Now, if we have questions, all 100 counties go to Raleigh. It put the burden back on the staff at the State board.”

Funding or no funding, Catawba County must still operate an election.

Starting Thursday, early voting will last from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, as well as 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday.
“Keep those timeframes in mind and don’t wait until the last day to come,” Brewer said. “If you wait until those last couple of days, most of the time you will be in line.”

Registration for the 2012 primaries ended last week, but voters can still do same-day registration during one-stop early voting in Newton, Brewer said.

The deadline to register to vote is 25 days before Election Day; however, Catawba County residents who missed the registration deadline may register in person and then vote at this one-stop absentee voting site, during the one-stop absentee voting period, according to the county and state elections websites.

To register and vote, citizens must:
• sign and complete a voter registration form, attesting that the person meets each eligibility requirement under law. Such attestation is signed under penalty of a class I felony.

• provide proof of residence by presenting a document showing the person's name and current address in Catawba County. Acceptable identification includes an N.C. driver’s license; photo identification from a government agency; or a current utility bill, bank statement, government check, paycheck or other government document.
• A person may not register at the one-stop site and then vote on Election Day.
There are more than 100,400 registered voters in Catawba County, according to county records. About 65 percent of the county's residents are registered to vote.
“We encourage everyone to vote,” Brewer said. “It’s strange for residents in the Hickory area to have to come to Newton, but we encourage them to vote.”

What's on the ballot?
• On the Democrat ballot, early voters will participate in primaries for the office of the president, the 10th U.S. congressional district, state governor, state lieutenant governor, the state’s commissioner of agriculture, state commissioner of labor, state treasurer and the 42nd state Senate district.

• On the Republican ballot, citizens will vote for the office of the president, the state’s 10th U.S. congressional district, state governor, state lieutenant governor, state auditor, the commissioner of agriculture, commissioner of insurance, secretary of state, superintendent of public instruction, state treasurer and Catawba County Board of Commissioners.

• For Libertarians, U.S. president is the only office on the ballot.

• All registered voters will also vote on a North Carolina constitutional amendment that would ban gay marriage in the state.