(10-18-2019 Update below)
An early voting location opened in Rocky Mount today for a mayoral runoff election, but most city residents cannot legally vote there.
How can that be?
Rocky Mount is split by county lines, with about two-thirds of the city’s residents living in Nash County and the rest living in Edgecombe County. The boards of elections in Nash and Edgecombe counties have established different early voting periods in their respective parts of Rocky Mount. While the Edgecombe County early voting location in Rocky Mount opened today, the Nash County location will not open until eight days later on October 24.
That decision could affect the outcome of what is expected to be a close runoff election for mayor in the city.
Ordinarily, Sandy Roberson would seem like a shoo-in to win the November 5 runoff election. He received 48.2 percent of the vote in a four-person field in the first round of voting on October 8. In doing so, he outpaced his nearest opponent by over twenty percentage points. However, the political divisions in the city mean that the runoff election will likely be close.
His opponent in the runoff, Bronson Williams, knows the importance of the Nash-Edgecombe split in voting patterns in Rocky Mount, acknowledging that his edge in the Edgecombe County side of the city helped him force a runoff:
Williams said when he and his team saw the count on Tuesday based on the early votes, “It was not as what I projected them to be, but nevertheless, by the time the end of the night came, the support in Edgecombe County grew.”
He said he believes the returns from Edgecombe County brought Roberson under the 50-percent mark.
While Roberson got more than three times the number of votes Williams got in the Nash County portion of Rocky Mount, Willians outpolled Roberson by more than two-to-one in the Edgecombe County part of the city.
The boards of elections in Nash and Edgecombe counties are no doubt aware of those voting parterns, so it is incredible that they did not coordinate to establish common hours for early voting locations within the city. Roberson asked the NC State Board of Elections yesterday to establish common early voting periods within Rocky Mount, but there has been no action from the board in response so far.
Intentionally or not, the collective actions of the boards of elections in Edgecombe and Nash counties have potentially altered the outcome of the Rocky Mount mayoral race.
The situation in Rocky Mount underscores the need to have common hours at all early voting locations within local jurisdictions.
(Electoral tool tip: You can look up early voting times and locations at the One-stop Voting Sites finder at the NC State Board of elections webpage.)
10-18-2019 update: In response to criticism from all sides, the Nash County Board of Elections voted yesterday in an emergency meeting to open an early voting site at the Braswell Memorial Library starting this morning.
The good news did not stop the head of Rocky Mount Branch of the NAACP from stating a blatant falsehood:
It is sad that we are still having to fight old voter suppression tactics and buy into narratives that the Republican Party, their representatives and leadership did not have a role in trying to deny Nash County voters an equal voice at the polls in this runoff.
Like all county boards in North Carolina, the Nash County Board of Elections has a Democratic Party majority.