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Commissioners threaten to defund Sunday voting

After threatening to withhold funding for Sunday voting before the Nov. 6 election, the Henderson County Board of Commissioners backed off and directed the county attorney to draft a letter protesting the Sunday early voting day the state elections board is requiring the county to offer.


When the local board of elections could not unanimously agree in its meeting on July 17 to the days for early voting for the fall election, the board had to go before the state Board of Elections, which voted on Aug. 5 to require Henderson County to offer voting on Sunday, Oct. 21. Henderson County was among 15 counties statewide that failed to reach a unanimous vote on some detail of early voting, triggering the state board's orders.
“The law says you have to have a unanimous plan,” Henderson County Elections Director Beverly Cunningham said Thursday. “In our county, Mr. Livingston wanted to have Sunday voting, so it was a 3-1 vote. Therefore, we had to appear before the state board and the state board went with the minority plan. So we’re open that first Sunday.” She estimated staffing the polls that day would cost $2,500 to $3,000 for personnel and overtime.
The county Board of Elections is made up of two Democrats — Robert Livingston and Tom Wilson — and two Republicans — Deborah Dante and Linda Rebuck.
During its regular meeting on Wednesday, the Board of Commissioners heard from Jane Bilello, a Tea Party leader who lambasted the action by the state Board of Elections.
“Sunday early voting was imposed upon Henderson County and many other counties by nameless, faceless, unelected elitist, rude, condescending N.C. Board of Elections after thousands of comments were submitted across the state strenuously opposing Sunday early voting,” she said. "Don't allow these condescending bureaucrats to hijack the authority we the people gave you to decide how to best utilize our tax money."
Later, when Cunningham appeared before the Board of Commissioners seeking approval for new voting machines, Commissioner Grady Hawkins brought up the state board’s action.
“If our board (of elections) had a unanimous to not vote on Sunday, we wouldn’t be open on Sunday, so now we’re being ruled by a minority instead of a majority and that doesn’t make sense,” Hawkins said. “The state Board of Elections is considerably overstepping their authority because this board (of commissioners) is elected by our citizens to determine how we spend their tax dollars.”
Hawkins asked what would happen if the county defunded Sunday voting.
“I’ve never heard of any county in North Carolina that did not do what the state board told it to,” Cunningham said.
Was she not, Hawkins asked, an employee of Henderson County?
“I’m actually an employee of Henderson County but I work under the guidance of the state Board of Election,” she said.
Hawkins persisted.
“It would be one thing if it came from the Legislature but if it comes from the (state) Board of Elections that nobody elected and is down there cranking out minority rules rather than majority rules (policies) I don’t feel like that’s something we should be mandated to follow.”
Hawkins suggested it would be worthwhile to sue the state Board of Elections, on the grounds that it has no authority to dictate spending at the county level.
“We might lose the case but I’d like to hear the argument that we don’t have that authority,” he said.
The board stopped short of that after seeking County Attorney Russ Burrell’s advice. Burrell responded that judges almost always come down on the side of more access to the polls, not less.
“In every election going back for 15-20 years somewhere something happens and there are court orders keeping the polls open hours later than normal,” Burrell said in an interview Thursday. “I’ve never seen one turned down.”
Commissioners instead voted unanimously to draft a letter to the state Board of Elections expressing the county’s strong opposition to the Sunday voting mandate.
Burrell said he hoped to meet with County Commission Chair Michael Edney later this week to draft the letter.