Sunday, October 1, 2023

Pender County voters have one early voting location for fall’s municipal elections

The five-member board decided early voting for the municipal elections will be held at the Cooperative Extension, beginning Oct. 19 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. (Google Maps)

BURGAW — Pender County voters will once again be heading to a familiar spot to cast their ballots for the municipal elections.

READ MORE: State BOE tweaks rules for voter ID law after public input

Tuesday night, the county’s board of elections unanimously finalized its “one-stop” — or early voting — site for the Nov. 7 elections. 

The five-member board decided early voting for the municipal elections will be held at the North Carolina Cooperative Extension, at 801 South Walker Street in Burgaw, beginning Oct. 19 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. The office will be closed on Saturdays, with the exception of Nov. 4, the final Saturday before the election. 

The board members chose the plan based on guidelines recommended by the state BOE, which according to Elections Director Greg Jackson is standard for the county during all of its elections. Jackson said no other plans were suggested by other board members prior to the meeting.

Nevertheless, having just one early voting location could lead to long distances for many voters. Though St. Helena is less than 10 miles from Burgaw, and Atkinson 15 miles away, Surf City is 39 miles and Topsail Beach 45 miles, meaning voters may have to travel over an hour to the “one-stop” location. 

BOE chair Carol Johnson told PCD Wednesday she was concerned about the distances voters have to travel in those areas. It was something she asked the other board members about when she took her position, as appointed by Gov. Roy Cooper June 29.

“[The other board members] told me we’ve always had one one-stop location,” Johnson said. “It’s an issue we do plan to look at for the next municipal election.” 

Since 2020, the North Carolina Cooperative Extension has served as the one-stop. Previously, voters went to the county BOE office, but it was moved because the Cooperative Extension is a larger space.

Last year, during the 2022 midterm elections, more locations were added due to larger voter turnout. The Pender County Annex Building in Hampstead, the Atkinson School Cafeteria and the Surf City Community Center all served as “one-stop” locations. 

Municipal elections in Pender County have varied in participation throughout the years. In 2017, 1,053 people cast ballots; however, it increased to 1,266 in 2019. That number dropped significantly to 953 in 2021 and that year only 306 early voters cast ballots.

Deputy Elections Director Theressa Lewis told PCD Wednesday turnout in every election is based on several factors.

“You can never judge how turnout is going to be in an election, especially a municipal election,” Lewis said. “People could vote on a specific issue, how the media reports on an issue, or a candidate and how the candidate runs his or her campaign.”

Lewis added the hours the BOE voted on Tuesday are normal considering the county’s size and the number of municipal elections being held. Though Pender County is 933 square miles, just five municipalities are holding elections Nov. 7: Burgaw, Topsail Beach, Surf City, Atkinson and St. Helena.

Due to its municipal charter, Watha has an election every four years, the last held in 2021.

The county has more than 47,000 registered voters, but less than half of them live in the six municipalities.

“We have over 60,000 people, according to the Census, but our population is mostly in the rural areas, and not in the municipalities.” Lewis said. “We’re not as big as New Hanover and not every one of our 19 precincts is located in a municipality.”

No residents participated in the public comment during Tuesday night’s BOE meeting.

“Voters haven’t come to us with any problems about the voting site,” Lewis added. 

Further information on voter registration, how to obtain an ID — required for the 2023 municipal elections — and other matters can be found here.

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