Forsyth County voters lined up outside the Board of Elections office on Chestnut Street to cast their ballots as early voting for the 2014 elections began this morning.
Even before the polls opened at 8:30, campaign volunteers and local candidates passed out flyers outside the building to try to sway voters one last time. Volunteers for incumbent Democratic Senator Kay Hagan were the most prominent of the bunch, with a group of about 10 supporters blowing whistles, banging cowbells, and calling out to passersby.
A major issue on the mind of voters was the new election laws that were passed by the North Carolina Legislature. While legislation that requires all voters to have photo identification does not take effect until the 2016 elections, all voters were asked to present ID this time around to raise awareness of the new measure. Those who did not have valid ID were given information on how to attain one. However, because of the reforms, this election will feature fewer early voting opportunities than in previous years and does not allow for same-day voter registration.
“I’m a 68 -year-old black man and in my opinion, the Republicans are starting to take us back to the days of the poll tax and Tillis in the state legislature had been doing an outstanding job of doing that,” said Jasper Brown, a 35-year resident of Winston-Salem and a self-identified Democrat. “By requiring voter ID and cutting down on the voting time, they have taken a lot of measures to suppress the vote and that rings very close to me.”
Although mainly concerned with gathering support for Hagan and discouraging people from voting for Republican Thom Tillis,who is running against Hagan, Brown was also concerned with local issues. He approached Ted Kaplan, the former State Senate Majority Leader and Democratic candidate for country commissioner, to ask for a new sidewalk in his neighborhood.
“This is something that I’ve been talking about for years and I think it would be quite helpful to have a sidewalk for children and families be safe,” Brown said. Kaplan promised to be an advocate for Brown if elected and shook hands with voters on their way to the ballot box.
“Voting early is convenient because it allows you to get it done and not wait in line,” said Kaplan. “We’ve been using social media to get everybody out and been working with the county to organize phone drives to get out early voters.”
Steve Hinds, the director of the Forsyth County Board of Elections, organized the lines of voters and praised the practice of early voting.
“In 2000, we introduced ‘no-excuse’ early voting were you could come in and vote,” Hines said. “Since then, the popularity of it has increased to the point where in a lot of large elections there are more people voting early than vote on Election Day.”
Hines said that early voting has not historically favored either party and is intended to allow voters more of a chance to participate in the election.
“It’s not really favorable from one party to another; it’s more about who can mobilize their base to come out and vote,” Hines said. “We’ve seen efforts to mobilize voters by bringing in voters or using mass transit and see both Republicans and Democrats pushing people to vote early.”
Other voters praised early voting and voiced concern about the new limitations on pre-Election Day ballot casting.
“I think early voting helps people but they’ve cut the hours back,” said James R. Jones, a self-identified veteran who planned to vote for Kay Hagan. “Someone cut out opportunities for registration and have done things to suppress the vote of African-Americans and Hispanics and that man is the speaker of the legislature, Thom Tillis. He is a radical extremist.”
Most voters present said they were mainly concerned about the senate race and voted early to make sure their voice was heard.
“Early voting allows you to go ahead and get it done” said Lewis Devlin. “I hope it makes a statement to the other people in the community about how important it is to vote.”
The polls will be open from October 23rd until November 1st. For a list of early voting sites and hours in Forsyth County, see http://www.ncsbe.gov/webapps/os_sites/OSVotingSiteList.aspx?County=FORSYTH&Election=11/04/2014