Heavy Turnout on Way
Moore County election officials are girding for a voter turnout of historic dimensions Tuesday.
Polling places will open at 6:30 a.m. and close at 7:30 p.m., but if early voting trends continue, precinct officials are likely to stay on duty even longer Tuesday night to accommodate voters who are still waiting in line when closing time arrives.
In keeping with a directive from the State Board of Elections, the Moore County board held an emergency meeting Friday and voted to extend the polling hours for one-stop voting Saturday, the final day to use that method, by hours until 5 p.m. It has been scheduled to end at 1 p.m.
"The number of voters so far has been overwhelming, but we are delighted because it shows that democracy is at work," said Mary M. Pope, chairwoman of the Moore County Board of Elections.
Pope said the early turnout is pleasing for other, more practical reasons. She said that the heavy voter turnout prior to Election Day should mean a somewhat lighter workload for her board and the elections staff Tuesday.
"It's more work now, but may be lighter work later on," Pope said.
More than 24,000 voters had cast ballots through one-stop early voting in Moore County through the end of the week, and the number was still climbing Saturday as residents lined up to vote early. The county now has 60,046, registered voters, as a result of residents registering when voted.
In addition to the early voting at Aberdeen recreation station, the Agricultural Center in Carthage and the Old West End gym, the elections office has been receiving absentee ballots in the mail. Her staff checks the mail daily and usually finds about 200 ballots in the box.
"The Carthage Post Office has been wonderful about expediting our mail," Clendenin said Friday.
The early voter turnout percentage is already higher than it is for some elections, especially in non-presidential election years. In 2004, Moore County voters cast 38,279 ballots in the presidential race between Republicans George Bush and Dick Cheney and Democrats John Kerry and John Edwards.
Voter enthusiasm generated by the dramatic presidential race this year has received a booster shot of energy this year from statewide races for governor and U.S. Senate and local races for legislative office and an unusually frisky race for district attorney.
Ready for Big Turnout
Clendenin said her office is prepared for the expected heavy turnout Tuesday.
Five persons have been added to the central office staff during the early voting period, and an additional eight persons have been hired to help out on Election Day. Because of the expected turnout during the early voting period, she hired an additional 27 people.
No one should worry that the county will give out of paper ballots Tuesday. Clendenin ordered 64,000 ballots, more than 4,000 more than the county was legally required to order.
The Moore County Board of Elections has already set in motion the vote-counting process for early voting. The results are sealed inside a keyed box within the computer system and cannot be totaled or made public until after the polls close Tuesday night.
In the meantime, the board has begun the painstaking process of considering each absentee ballot separately. One-stop voting is a type of absentee voting, but ballots cast at the three one-stop sites are fed into the computerized tabulator, results of which will not be available until election night.
However, thousands of absentee ballots have been returned the traditional way by mail and must be handled individually with personal attention from the Board of Elections and office staff.
Board members will wrap up the absentee ballot work on Tuesday. Absentee ballots return-ed by mail must be into the county office by 5 p.m. Monday.
The problem with the traditional absentee ballots is that each ballot must be checked to determine if the voter's signature is affixed, along with the signature of a witness, and the date is provided. Then each ballot must be checked against a master list of absentee ballots mailed by the Moore County elections office.
The county elections staff has been working daily as late as 9 and 11 p.m. to complete all the work connected with this election. Clendenin is usually in the office by 5 a.m. the next day.
One-stop absentee voting, or early voting, has been in effect in North Carolina several years, and the practice grows more popular each year.
But this year is different, with excitement over the presidential contest packed with firsts -- the Democratic Party's first black candidate and the Republican Party's first female candidate for vice president. The face-off for the White House is between Sen. Barack Obama, an Illinois Democrat, and Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican and a man remembered for his heroism as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. Their running mates are Democratic Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware, a seasoned member of the Senate, and Republican Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska, a former mayor and beauty queen.
Vote President Separately
Clendenin said every effort is being made to alert voters to the fact that they must vote separately for president if they are voting a straight-party ticket. North Carolina is among those states that separate the presidential race from other partisan elections.
Instructions are clearly printed on the ballot, but Clendenin said election workers are taking further steps to make sure voters understand these particular issues.
At polling places, each voter will receive a notice printed on salmon-colored paper advising about the separate place for presidential choice on the ballot. The notice also advises voters that they must fill in the oval beside the candidate of choice and that the machine cannot read check marks and the letter X.
In most cases, election officials are advising voters personally about the separation of the presidential race from the straight party ticket, along with other reminders.
The design of the ballot, which has come under fire from critics, also poses a problem for unaffiliated candidates and for third-party candidates whose supporters are less likely to vote a straight ticket and may miss their names on the ballot.
Instructions on voting are printed at the upper left corner of the ballot's first page. Beneath those instructions is additional information about the presidential contest, followed by a listing of the three sets of candidates. There is a line for write-in candidates.
Beneath the presidential part of the ballot is information about straight-party voting, after which there is an area where the voter may mark a straight party ticket for Democratic, Republican or Libertarian candidates. The information above the straight party ticket box repeats information about the need to vote separately for president and vice president.
The practice of requiring separate votes for president and for straight party voting has been state law since the 1960s.
Local Contested Races
In addition to the races for president, U.S. Senate and governor, a number of local contests are on the ballot.
Republican Jamie Boles and Democrat Betty Mangum are running for state House District 52, which includes 23 and a half precincts in Moore County. The winner will replace first-term Republican Rep. Joe Boylan, who lost to Boles in a GOP primary in May.
The Cameron precinct and part of the Carthage Precinct are in state House District 54. The Democratic incumbent, Joe Hackney, of Orange County, is unopposed.
In state Senate District 22, which includes Moore and Harnett counties, Republican Sen. Harris Blake, of Pinehurst, is being challenged again by Democrat Benjamin Oudeh, who lives in Harrett County. Blake defeated Oudeh two years ago.
The final race on the front page of the ballot is for District Attorney District 19D, covering Moore County only. Maureen Helen Krueger, the Republican incumbent, is being challenged by Tony Berk, an unaffiliated candidate who has been endorsed by the county Democratic Party.
Two candidates for seats on the Moore County Board of Commissioners are listed on the second side of the ballot: Nick Picerno in District 2 and incumbent Tim Lea in District 4. They both won their races in the May primary and face no Democratic opposition.
The remaining races on the ballot are nonpartisan. Voters who mark the straight party ticket are advised that their choices for these offices must be marked separately or they will get no votes.
Marcie Quist and Robert M. "Rob" Wilkins are running for District Court judge in District 19B.
Four seats are up for election on the nonpartisan Board of Education, but only two are contested, and one seat on the Soil and Water Conservation Board of Supervisors.
Incumbent Kathy Farren is being challenged by Ed Dennison for the District 2 seat. Laura Kelly Kite and Enola G. Lineberger are running for the District 4 seat now held by Joe Vaughn, who did not seek re-election.
Lorna C. Clack, candidate for the District 1 seat on the Board of Education, and Bruce T. Cunningham, candidate for the District V seat, are unopposed. Both are incumbents.
Billy Carter, Harry J. Huberth and Katharine McLeod are candidates for the one seat on the nonpartisan conservation board.
Polling Place Changes
Voters will find a few changes at the polls this year.
The county has added a precinct by splitting Knollwood into two precincts. The new East Knollwood Precinct polling place is at the Moore County Airport terminal. Polling place for West Knollwood Precinct is at the Sandhills Community College Garden and Visitor Center.
This gives the county 25 precincts.
Voters who live in the East Knollwood Precinct are advised that the section of Airport Road between N.C. 22 and Hardee Lane will remain closed on Election Day. Voters must take Camp Easter Road as a detour to Central Drive in Southern Pines or travel another route out of Whispering Pines to reach N.C. 22 and the airport to vote Tuesday. That portion of Airport Road is closed because of a major highway construction project nearing completion.
Polling places in three other precincts have been changed. Robbins Precinct voters will find their polling place at Davis Community Center. The West Aberdeen polling place has been moved to the new Aberdeen Recreation Station, and Bensalem voters will vote at Bensalem Presbyterian Church.
Contact Florence Gilkeson at 947-49622 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
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