A vital component of a healthy democracy is the ballot box.
Votes from an engaged electorate make up the fuel that powers our form of government forward.
That said, any reasonable effort to expand voting, to encourage voting, to increase voter turnouts ought to be explored, employed and supported.
This week, the Richmond County Board of Elections discussed a request to allow voting on Sundays during the Early Voting period leading up to the general election in November.
The board will submit a plan to the State Board of Elections by Aug. 10, as the election calendar requires, and make a final decision shortly thereafter about whether to allow Sunday voting and/or expand hours for casting ballots during the weekdays of Early Voting.
We support the move for additional time to cast votes and are hopeful the county can see the way to make it happen.
According to Board of Elections Director Connie Kelly, funding could limit such a change.
“It’s not dead in the water yet,” said Kelly. “Board members have been called by party officials and quite a few people showed up (for the meeting Tuesday).”
Out of the 40 or so in attendance, Kelly said the majority of them were against opening on Sundays.
Richmond County Republican Party Vice Chairman Tim Watson said those who were opposed to Sunday voting were mostly against it for religious reasons; some believing Sundays should be reserved for church and family.
Others who favor opening on Sunday said it would allow people who work more opportunity to vote.
Hilda Pemberton, elections board chair, said the board welcomes further comments from voters on whether hours need adjusting or if additional days are needed.
The county elections board was contacted in June by the group Democracy N.C., which spurred the conversation about voting on Sundays. According to the group’s website, www.democracy-nc.org, “Many counties have sites open (for voting) on Saturdays, some even on Sunday.”
In the 2008 general election about a dozen North Carolina counties tried Sunday voting. The director of Democracy N.C. said it was extremely successful.
The state’s voter turnout rate has ranged from dismal to respectable over the course of the past 40 years or so. Statistics compiled by state elections officials on presidential election years from 1972 show voter turnout rates as poor as 59 percent in the elections of 1996 and 2000, up to a high of 70 percent in 2008.
The specific head count shakes out this way: In 2008 there were 7,148,000 North Carolinians of voting age. Of the 6,262,566 who were registered to vote, 4,354,052 actually bothered to do so — or 70 percent.
Again, not a bad showing. But imagine a voter turnout rate of 75 percent … 80, 90 percent. And why not. That ought to be a goal of everyone who realizes the value of a vote, the power of a vote, the impact.
Open, free, easy voting ought to be advanced at every turn.
We encourage county leaders to find the funds necessary to allow Sunday voting during Early Voting, and/or expanding the hours votes can be cast during that special Early Voting period.