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Dorian halts early voting in some NC counties for special congressional elections

Hurricane Dorian is already having an effect on early voting in both of the state’s special elections, including the heated 9th Congressional District race, the State Board of Elections said Wednesday.

Election Day is Tuesday for the 3rd and 9th Congressional District races, and several counties are closing early voting sites in anticipation of the storm.

In the 3rd District, Republican Greg Murphy, Democrat Allen Thomas, Libertarian Tim Harris and Constitution Party Greg Holt are vying for the seat that opened up when Rep. Walter Jones died.

The 9th District has drawn national attention and a scheduled visit from President Trump Monday in support of Republican Dan Bishop. Bishop, Democrat Dan McCready, Libertarian Jeff Scott and Green Party candidate Allen Smith are running for a seat left open after state officials found an operative for then-Republican candidate Mark Harris had committed absentee ballot fraud in the 2018 election.

Fifteen counties in the 3rd Congressional District — covering much of northeastern North Carolina — are shutting down early voting for Friday. Ten will close for all or part of Thursday as well.

In the 9th Congressional District, which stretches along North Carolina’s southern border from Bladen County to Mecklenburg County, four counties are limiting early voting.

Bladen County’s early voting sites are closed Thursday and Friday. Robeson and Scotland won’t offer early voting on Thursday, and Cumberland County will only have one early voting site open at the county Board of Elections from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Thursday. The county board will decide on Friday morning if sites should be open that day.

The two counties with the largest numbers of registered voters in the district – Mecklenburg and Union – are keeping early voting sites open. Mecklenburg also has the municipal election in Charlotte.

Will early voting be rescheduled?

The State Board of Elections has a website for the public to keep track of early voting and county boards of elections closures at ncsbe.gov/VotingandDisasters.

Patrick Gannon, the state board’s spokesman, said it has received requests from county boards and the North Carolina Democratic Party to extend in-person early voting into the weekend to make up for the lost hours. Thursday afternoon, Bishop and McCready also called for the board to extend early voting hours.

“This has been an election where the voters have faced every type of obstacle, from gerrymandering to absentee ballot fraud to a hurricane last fall that displaced thousands of voters,” McCready said. “Now the voters face another hurricane, which threatens to keep thousands more from being able to cast their sacred right to vote.”

Karen Brinson Bell, the board’s executive director, has the authority to make those changes in cases of natural disasters, extreme inclement weather or armed conflicts. She told the board on Thursday that she plans to assess the damage caused by the storm, which will dump rain across the state into Friday, before deciding whether to extend early voting.

“We want every eligible voter to be able to cast a ballot in the Sept. 10 elections,” Bell said in a statement. “With the oncoming storm, the safety of elections officials, poll workers and voters is of utmost concern.”

She said she will consider remedies to the loss of early voting hours based on “conditions on the ground, the availability of polling places and workers and other factors.”

Elections are being held in 25 of the state’s 100 counties, she said. Some will likely need assistance conducting elections, and volunteers from 20 counties have already offered help, Bell said.

Staff writer Paul A. Specht contributed to this report.
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Dan Kane began working for The News & Observer in 1997. He covered local government, higher education and the state legislature before joining the investigative team in 2009.
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