BEAUFORT — The Carteret County Board of Elections began discussions Wednesday on the possibility of consolidating some of the county’s voting precincts.
The board discussed the matter during its regular monthly meeting at the elections office on Live Oak Street in Beaufort. Interim Director Margot Burke said there is a Tuesday, Oct. 1 deadline for counties to submit precinct boundary change requests to the state.
The county currently has 28 precincts, each of which contains a polling place that operates on non-municipal election days. The board discussed potentially making changes to some of the county’s smaller precincts, such as combining Stella and Peletier and consolidating some of the Down East precincts. Ms. Burke said the main reason for consolidation is the expense of running the polls.
“When we’ve wanted to combine precincts for (past) elections, it’s to save costs,” she said.
As BOE Chairman Rick Heal pointed out, some voting precincts have as few as a couple hundred registered voters, and operating polling places on election day can be expensive.
Board member Amy Holland said the county has changed voting precinct boundaries in the past, and although there was some opposition at the time, the board agreed it makes sense with shifting populations and trends toward lower voter turnout.
“No matter (the) changes we recommend, there’s going to be opposition. …But if we sit here and do nothing when we know it is better to merge some of these (precincts), we know it saves the county money, it makes more sense, it just works better,” Mr. Heal said. “…We’re talking about very low (population) precincts here that have very low turnout.”
The board plans to hold a special meeting at a later date to further discuss precinct boundaries and decide whether to submit a request to the state.
Deputy Director Shawne Southard said, if approved, the changes would not take effect until at least 2021 because of the state’s process of reviewing requests, which involves public input.
In other business, the board reviewed its budget that was recently adopted by the county and went into effect Monday. The county approved $746,800 for the elections department in fiscal year 2019-20, up from about $537,000 approved last year.
After several budget amendments in the previous fiscal year, the election department’s total budget for 2018-19 was $595,457. Ms. Holland said the extra costs could be partially due to the unexpected special election for the late Rep. Walter Jones Jr.’s 3rd Congressional District seat.
Ms. Southard said one difference between the department’s requested funds and the approved budget is the addition of a fourth full-time staff member. The BOE office currently has three full-time and two part-time staff, but the department requested a fourth full-time worker because the BOE anticipates a heavy workload in the coming year with the implementation of new voter ID laws and several special elections.
Other than approval of a fourth staff member, Ms. Southard said the county fully honored the election department’s funding request.
Also at the meeting, the board approved the minutes from eight past meetings. They also met in closed session to discuss personnel and a confidential matter, and the board took no further action.
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