GREENSBORO — Guilford County residents will have two fewer places for early voting for the November general election.
However, while there are fewer sites, more will be open earlier in the voting period and they will be open longer each day.
The Guilford County Board of Elections voted unanimously Tuesday afternoon to reduce the number of early voting sites from 11 to nine in response to a new law the General Assembly recently passed. There were 11 early voting sites in 2014, the last federal midterm election.
The new law mandates that all “one-stop” voting sites be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekdays from the start of the early voting period to the end. Early voting, which runs from Oct. 17 to Nov. 3, starts on a Wednesday and ends on the Saturday before the Nov. 4 election.
In previous elections, Guilford County offered early voting at the county elections offices in Greensboro and High Point first, then expanded to extra sites later in the early voting period.
Local officials say their experience shows most early voters don’t vote until the last days prior to the election.
“We are going to have way more hours of operation than we’ve ever had before,” said Kimberly Ellington, elections technical specialist in early voting.
After some discussion, the four-member board settled on nine locations for this year. Two — the Old Guilford County Courthouse and Washington Terrace Park — are considered “office” locations, which can use regular office hours rather than be required to stay open the full 12 hours on weekdays, officials said.
Besides weekdays, there also will be two weekend dates for early voting in Guilford County, from noon to 5 p.m. on Oct. 28 and 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Nov. 3.
The board, which by law contains two Democrats and two Republicans, had to come to a consensus on its plan or the state would have stepped in to settle the dispute.
Board chairman Jim Kimel, a Democrat, and vice chairwoman Kathryn Lindley, a Republican, said after the meeting that with the longer days, they think nine sites would be plenty to accommodate anyone who wants to vote early. The two are set to switch roles at the board’s next meeting.
Although they didn’t frame their decision as motivated by saving money, using 11 or 12 sites with the longer weekday hours mandated by the legistlature could potentially have put the Board of Elections over the $170,000 budget from the county for early voting. That amount was figured prior to the state legislature changing the law.
Charlie Collicutt, director of the Guilford County Board of Elections, said he may well have been able to make 11 or 12 sites work under that budget with flexibility in staffing, but he feels more confident using nine.
Before the board voted, a half-dozen people spoke in favor of convenient, equitable access to early voting polling locations for students, people working multiple jobs, racial minorities, and people who live in the High Point area of the county. Several speakers also shared a desire for more locations, longer hours, and especially more weekend hours.
Rakaya Nasir-Phillips, who represented the group Ignite NC, said she is also a student at N.C. A&T.
“I’d like to talk about how early voting is not accessible for A&T students,” she said, explaining that many students do not have vehicles and would need to be able walk to a polling station to participate in early voting.
At the request of board member T. Anthony Spearman, a Democrat, the board discussed the possibility of including A&T on the list of polling places for early voting in this general election, but decided against it. A&T, GTCC and UNC-Greensboro have typically been used for early voting sites during presidential elections.