DOBSON — Local residents who’ve been monitoring campaign speeches and patiently awaiting their chance to actually visit the polls for the most hotly contested presidential election in years can do so this week.
Although North Carolina’s primary won’t be held until March 15, a one-stop absentee early voting period is allowing citizens to get an early start on the process. Early voting begins Thursday at the Surry County Board of Elections in Dobson, and next Monday will expand to additional sites in Mount Airy, Pilot Mountain and Elkin.
The historic 2016 election has been accompanied by court challenges to North Carolina’s voter reform law, including a new photo ID requirement, and a congressional redistricting ruling.
Surry Elections Director Susan Jarrell said Monday she is concerned that the lawsuit and other activity might have caused confusion among the electorate, but is hoping everyone will be aware that the primary is still on for March 15.
Local voters can make choices for presidential candidates in the Democratic, Republican and Libertarian parties, along with those seeking state and federal offices and a $2 billion state bond referendum for capital improvements and new construction for various public facilities.
The primary ballot also includes Republicans vying for the Surry County Board of Commissioners, and the primary will serve as the regular election for the Surry County Board of Education.
Under recent legislative changes, no runoff election, or second primary, will be held for county commissioner, regardless of the winning margin.
While those registered as Democrats, Republicans and Libertarians can vote ballots for those parties only, unaffiliated voters can participate in any party primary they choose. Those individuals will be asked at the polls to pick the one they prefer, Jarrell said.
Some uncertainty has been thrown into the process due to a recent ruling by federal judges that North Carolina congressional districts were improperly drawn, which led to new district maps being prepared.
This means there are now two primary dates, March 15 as originally planned, and June 7 for congressional elections only. This took into account that there wasn’t enough time to hold a new congressional candidate filing period, print new ballots based on revised boundaries and mail absentee ballots to people in time to keep the congressional primary on schedule for March 15.
However, primary candidates for federal Senate and House seats are still on the ballot for the March primary process.
Jarrell said the State Board of Elections is advising everyone to “vote the full ballot” during that primary.
There is a chance the state could win an appeal defending the legality of the contested map.
New ID requirement
The Surry Board of Elections is reminding that most voters must show an acceptable photo identification to cast ballots this year.
Acceptable forms include a North Carolina driver’s license, North Carolina non-operator’s state ID card, U.S. passport or passport book, U.S. military ID and some tribal enrollment cards. Voters also may show an out-of-state driver’s license or non-operator’s card if they have registered within 90 days of Election Day.
Jarrell said Monday that everyone should make sure they bring such a form of ID to the polls, and to have their IDs out and ready to present when they get to the registration table.
But she added that a “reasonable impediment” provision is available for persons without an ID because of certain circumstances. These include lack of transportation, disability or illness, work schedule, family responsibilities and a lost or stolen photo ID.
Any voter who does not possess an acceptable ID can sign a reasonable impediment form and cast a provisional ballot on Election Day. They will also be required to present identification by showing a recent utility bill, bank statement, government check, paycheck, other government document or provide the last four digits of their Social Security number and date of birth.
Officials expect the implementation of the photo ID law to slow down the process on Election Day. Precinct officials will have to check the ID for expiration requirements, same or similar names and reasonable resemblances.
With the uncertainty of March weather in North Carolina and the possible lines on Election Day as precinct personnel implement the photo ID law, elections officials encourage everyone who is ready to cast their ballot to do so at an early voting location.
Those who did not register to vote by a Feb. 19 deadline can still register and cast ballots during the early voting period, hence the one-stop absentee reference, but can’t vote on the March 15 primary day.
Early voting schedule
• Early voting starts Thursday morning at the county elections office, located on the lower level of the new courthouse in Dobson.
Ballots can be cast there from 8:15 a.m. to 5 p.m. this Thursday and Friday, and on Monday through Friday of next week during the same hours.
Early votes also can be cast at the county board of elections on March 12, the Saturday before the election, from 8:15 a.m. to 1 p.m.
• Early voting gets under way Monday at Mount Airy and two other satellite stations in Pilot Mountain and Elkin. In Mount Airy, early ballots can be cast at the Surry County Human Services Center at 1218 State St., located behind Arby’s.
• In Pilot Mountain the early voting location will be The Pilot Center of Surry Community College, located at 612 E. Main St.
• The Elkin Center of Surry Community College, at 1461 N. Bridge St., will host early voting in Elkin.
Early voting schedules are the same for Mount Airy, Pilot Mountain and Elkin — 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Monday through Friday of next week and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on March 12.
A qualified voter can cast a ballot at any early voting site.
“And we hope everyone will come out and vote,” Jarrell said.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.