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In response to a letter from a group asking for more than one early voting site in Halifax County, board of commissioners Chairman Vernon Bryant says he agrees with the organization on several points.

“The Halifax County Board of Commissioners join you in not being pleased as well,” Bryant said in a letter to the Southeast Halifax Coalition. “The points you made in your email are all the reasons why we should have a minimum of two early voting sites strategically located in Halifax County. One should be in the northern part serving Roanoke Rapids, Weldon, Littleton and Lake Gaston area (and) another on the southern end located around Scotland Neck or Enfield to serve those areas as well as Halifax, Hobgood and Hollister.”

The letter from the coalition was dated with Thursday’s date of October 18 and was sent to commissioners, the county manager, and the county and state board of elections office.

Bryant responded to the group the county board of elections “totally control the number of sites and locations — not the Halifax County Board of Commissioners. We only assist them with funding when requested. No formal request was made by the board of elections for the county to help fund additional (sites or a site).”

In its letter the coalition, which is comprised of several non-profits and individuals who represent the Southeastern part of Halifax County, addressed its concern about what it described as “limited access and the disenfranchisement of the voters that are especially living in this area.

Having only one early voting site in Halifax County unfairly burdens those living in Southeast Halifax County as well as in the Hollister/Littleton area by creating barriers that limit their ability to get there to vote.”

In the emailed letter, which was signed by Vanessa Fields, chair; Nicole Benjamin, vice chair; and Janice Gerald, secretary, the coalition said, “Some of the barriers that impede their ability to vote in the early voting process include lack of transportation/resources, lack of money to pay someone to take them to vote at the one site, the inability of working families to be supportive in helping others to get to the one voting site, and the handicapped and seniors with limited mobility that are wheelchair and homebound who are used to voting in their community or town where it was more accessible. In addition, more weekend days are definitely needed to accommodate the voting needs of your citizens.”

The coalition says these restrictions “have been inconsiderately placed upon taxpaying voting citizens in the Southeastern part of Halifax County and extended areas of the county,” and will require them to travel 55 to 65 miles round trip.  

“Statistics have shown that there were noticeably more participation in early voting by the underserved and at-risk populations when it was easily available and accessible for them to vote. This one site unfairly targets citizens living in those areas that are majority African-American, American Indians in (the) Hollister community and low income whites and especially our senior population throughout the county. Are you aware of how deeply you have infringed upon the rights of these voting citizens?”

The coalition believes the 1-cent tax decrease commissioners approved for this fiscal year “could have been used to continue to have more than one voting site in Halifax County which is a county that covers a wide area as well as a very large land mass.”

The organization asks, “How many households do you think can make groceries, buy dinner or put enough gas in their tank to get back and forth to work from that tax refund?  Surely that percentage will not afford them transportation to the one voting site. The additional sites in the past were accessible to our citizens and were very beneficial.

“Having accessible voting sites in our local community increases voter turnout by making it convenient for your tax-paying citizens to exercise their right to vote. Neighbors, friends, family and church members will more readily volunteer to assist each other getting to early voting sites in our community. “

The letter ends by the organization asking what the plan will be from here on.

In his response Bryant explained, “The Halifax County Board of Commissioners decreased the property tax rate by one cent. That has nothing to do with early voting site. That decrease was done in an effort to try to help citizens/businesses in Halifax County.”

He extended an invitation for those concerned to get on the agenda of a board of elections meeting or a board of commissioners meeting.

Currently, the only one-stop election for this election cycle is the agricultural auditorium on the grounds of the courthouse complex on Ferrell Lane in Halifax.

Wednesday board of elections Director Kristin Scott said the Neighborhood Resource Center on Jackson Street will be used as a one-stop site beginning with the primaries for the 2020 election season.

This came after Roanoke Rapids City Council approved a contract with the county board of elections at its Tuesday night meeting.

Scott said Wednesday re-establishing a one-stop site in Roanoke Rapids will most likely open the opportunity to have an early voting site in the southern end of the county although a specific location has not been determined.

Depending on the budget, Scott said there could also be the likelihood that additional one-stop sites could open as well beginning with the 2020 election cycle.