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By Erin Smith

The Bladen County Board of Elections met on Tuesday afternoon and voted to approve a One Stop voting plan. The plan must now be sent to the State Board of Elections in Raleigh for their approval.

Bladen County Board of Elections Chairman Jens Lutz joined the meeting via telephone.

The local board had until July 20th to submit a plan to the State Board of Elections. The discussion among board members at times was contentious before the board held a unanimous vote on the plan.

Recently adopted N.C. Senate Bill 325 mandates hours for One Stop voting to be 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. on weekdays. One Stop voting for Saturday, November 3, 2018, takes place from 8 a.m. until 1 p.m. Under the new law, counties were given until July 20th to submit their One Stop plans for the November 2018 election to the State for approval.

The bill was originally vetoed by NC Governor Roy Cooper and the veto was overridden by the legislature.

Board of Elections member Rob Davis said the State placed a heavy burden on the board to generate a One Stop plan and return it to the State Board of Elections in Raleigh in such a short time.

When a motion was made to go from four One Stop locations to one, Board of Elections member Al Daniel initially voted no. Daniel expressed concerns with going from four One Stop locations to one and how it may disenfranchise voters in some communities.

The board also had concerns with the number of staff that will be needed to work the One Stop locations for the mandated 12 hours per day.

“Until we develop a plan, we don’t know how many people we need to train,” said Ludlum.

The Board of Elections received input from audience members in attendance at the meeting. Pat Melvin asked if anyone had actually calculated the costs of having four one stops locations versus one location. Melvin also asked how the Board of Elections planned to pay the poll workers. He noted that one site would be the most cost effective measure based on the number of hours mandated by the State.

Prentis Benston noted the Board of Elections should do its due diligence in determining how many locations to have and to consider those who are elderly and having to drive 25 miles or more to Elizabethtown.

Ben Snyder spoke noted Bladen County is one of the fourth largest counties in the state in terms of territory. He noted that no one discussed any research into the situation or any comparisons to other locations.

Board of Elections Director Cynthia Shaw said Moore County has 60,000 registered voters and they have only one One Stop location.

After further discussion, Shaw estimated if the board opens all four One Stop locations with the newly mandated hours, the costs would be $47,000 and if the county choses to operate one One Stop voting location, the cost would be $15,000.

A motion was made later in the meeting to rescind the original motion for one location for One Stop voting. That motion passed.

After further discussion, the Board unanimously voted to offer One Stop voting from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. on Saturday, October, 20th and Saturday, October 27th. This motion passed unanimously.

A second motion was made once more to reduce the number of One Stop locations to one. On the second vote, the motion passed unanimously. The plan calls for the county to operate a One Stop location at the Bladen County Public Library in Elizabethtown with voting on Saturday, October 20th, and Saturday, October 27th, from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. Voting on weekdays will take place from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. beginning Wednesday, October 17th, as legislated in the new law. The plan also calls for voting hours on Saturday, November 3rd, from 8 a.m. until 1 p.m.

In other business, Board of Elections Director Cynthia Shaw stated voter identification is being discussed. Board of Elections Vice-Chairman Bobby Ludlum said photo identification will appear on the November ballot as a Constitutional Amendment.

There was no discussion regarding a proposed move of the Bladen County Veterans Affairs Office from the Board of Elections to the Bladen County Courthouse.

The board will meet again on July 17 to elect a new Chairman and Vice-Chairman.