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electionlineWeekly--March 10, 2016

Table of Contents

I. In Focus This Week

The best laid plans
Court ruling once again splits North Carolina primaries

By M. Mindy Moretti

On September 30, 2015 North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory signed legislation into law moving the state’s presidential primary to March 15, 2016. The House and Senate worked together to move all the state’s primaries to March 15 in an effort to cuts costs and increase turnout.

But then, with ballots already printed, on February 5, 2016 a federal court ruled that the state had to redraw Congressional maps--maps that had just been approved by the U.S. Department of Justice.

While the presidential primary is still a go for next week, county elections officials will now be forced to conduct a Congressional primary in June and deal with the confusion and extra work that may come from that.

In Alamance County, Director of Elections Kathy Holland said the added primary will require extra staff time to field voter questions, concerns and confusion as well as time to contact polling places in an effort secure sites that were not asked for on the yearly committal form.

“The State Board has not given specifics yet regarding requirements for conducting the election but there is a great possibility I will need to request additional funding,” Holland said. “The initial information indicates we will need to have matching early voting hours for 2010 which would mean we would have to open two one stop sites to match those hours. Most likely one site will be quite sufficient.”

Michael Perry, director of elections in Durham County said that fortunately the impact of a June primary has been minimal on his office so far.

“It's possible that we will not need to conduct the June primary in our county or it could be just a few precincts,” Perry said. “After the March primary we will prepare for the June primary.”

While Perry might not be thinking ahead to June just yet, some counties are getting ready, whether they meant to or not. In a fortunate turn of events, officials in Gaston County had already prepared for two primaries.

“Originally when we prepared our budget request to the county last year, the General Assembly had planned for having two separate elections -- a Presidential Preference Primary in March and the regular Primary Election in May,” explained Adam Ragan, director of elections for the Gaston County Board of Elections.” Because of this, my office had budgeted for two elections so even though the General Assembly combined the Presidential Preference Primary and May Primary Election into a single election in March, we had the funds that were originally budgeted for the May Election for use for the June Congressional Primary.

Ragan said he will not need to request additional funds and will cost the county approximately $215,000 if there are party primaries for both major parties and around $185 if they only have one primary.  

Other counties like Mecklenburg had also budgeted for a second primary all along so additional costs aren’t necessarily a major factor for all counties. 

One thing that most counties are working on is voter education. Although attention is still very much focused on next week’s primary, elections officials are thinking ahead to June.

Michael Dickerson, director of the Mecklenburg County board of elections said he is currently focusing on media interviews and social media to get the word out.

“Currently it is media interviews. And the use of social media. We have also placed a flyer at each Early Voting location with the State Board’s explanation and the date of the June 7th Congressional primary,” Dickerson said.

Ragan too said that he is relying on social media to get the word out as well as partnering with local political parties and the media to inform voters of the changes. Despite that, Ragan is certain voter turnout will be low for the June primary.

“I'm sure voter turnout will be low for the June election. It's similar to a second primary that we have on occasion,” Ragan said. “In 2016, with the addition of the June Primary, the General Assembly cancelled any Second Primary this year but, as it relates to voter turnout, it will be similar.”

Holland said that there has been some confusion for poll workers and voters during early voting who wonder why the Congressional races still appear on the ballots, but she said early voting has been an opportunity for voter education.