Chatham Board of Elections Making Changes
by Jan Nichols
Chatham County has the reputation of having the highest voter turnout and one of the best run Board of Elections in the state. The County Board of Elections (“BOE”) was reviewing merging precincts at the end of 2019 but put it on hold due to COVID-19. Our five-person board recently started working on this again and addressing issues of safety and overcrowding and cell/internet connectivity with an eye to making our election day process run even more smoothly. This means changes in two areas: Election Day poll location and precinct configuration.
Election Day polling locations
Our county election staff has always faced challenges finding both early voting and election day poll sites. Some sites are easy because they can use county buildings. Locations in shopping centers have engendered complaints from businesses about parking, poll workers and too many voters, making it hard for their clients to get to their businesses. The other frequently used option, Fire Stations, poses logistical and safety issues. Fire trucks have to be parked outside, parking is limited, poll equipment must be locked up, and access restricted, all of which disrupts the operation of the fire station. And if there is a fire – the trucks have to roll quickly. An unexpected benefit of COVID in 2020 was the availability of school facilities for polling sites. It turned out that the schools were a great polling location. The county schools took a further step and made election day a teacher work day. Schools have plenty of space, parking, internet, staff may set-up the night before, and the areas used can be secured. The changes will save the county money and allow the Chatham BOE to manage poll workers better.
Going forward, after a formal request by Election Director Pandora Pascal, the Chatham BOE will use school facilities and election day will be a teacher work day. Director Pascal also succeeded in getting agreement to use the Armory in Siler City. Changes must be approved by the NC State Board of Elections and not all changes have completed the process yet.
Some of you who were around before 2004, will recall past changes to our precincts such as the merger of East and West Pittsboro into the much larger Pittsboro precinct and the merger of East, Central and West Siler City into East and West Siler City. Chatham’s population has been growing and population distribution has been shifting. Some areas are decreasing and others are rapidly growing. In response to this, some precincts are changing. Pending approval from the North Carolina State Board of Elections (“NCSBE”) , Oakland will split with the western half, joining Goldson Precinct, and the eastern half merging with Three Rivers to form the new Moncure Precinct. Bennett and Harpers Crossroads will merge into Crossroads precinct. The largest and fastest growing precinct, Manns Chapel, will also be divided but the county BOE is waiting for data from the NCBOE to determine the new configuration and its plans to discuss splitting the Manns Chapel precinct. This could possibly be voted on at the August county BOE meeting. Then, once the NCBOE approves all changes, a new map will be produced and the information online will be updated. Future changes may include splitting Hadley with part being added to the new Manns Chapel precinct and the balance combined with Albright to form a Silk Hope precinct, and splitting Pittsboro in two precincts. For now, when the dust settles, Chatham will have 17 instead of 18 precincts.
The County Board of Elections will officially notify voters of changes to precincts and voting locations once the changes are approved by the State Board of Elections. If you wish to virtually attend the county BOE meetings go to https://www.chathamcountync.gov/about-us/sign-up-for-e-notifier to receive notifications.