BRUNSWICK COUNTY, NC (WECT) - The Town of Leland is denying use of the Leland Cultural Arts Center and Leland Town Hall for early voting, creating early drama in the 2018 election season.
Both sites have been used for early voting in previous elections, including in the 2016 primary and general elections when 7,933 votes were cast at the Arts Center and 8,336 were cast at Town Hall. That amounts to more than 26 percent of overall one-stop votes cast in the county.
Brunswick County Board of Elections Director Sara Knotts said the convenience of voting locations matters to voter turnout.
In October, Leland Town Manager David Hollis denied the Brunswick County Board of Elections's request to use the two sites for early voting in the 2018 elections. He said the town's decision to deny the request is justified.
"That's a tremendous financial burden on us, a tremendous burden on our operations, all our programs," said Hollis.
He said early voting takes revenue from the Cultural Arts Center since early voting restricts use of half of the building for three weeks. He also said it disrupts daily operations at Town Hall.
Knotts said they have a legal right to tax-supported buildings for election purposes.
"[The law] does have a provision that if we cannot reach an agreement with a tax-supported building, we could have appealed to a state board of elections to come in and help us resolve the issue," said Knotts.
Hollis said the Cultural Arts Center will be made available for Election Day voting, but not early voting. He noted early voting is a county wide service, but Leland taxpayers expect services like those provided by the arts center to be available.
"The people who live in Leland have paid for the arts center. They want it to operate as an arts center," said Hollis. "They didn't pay for it to be an early voting location. It's not a community center. It's an arts center."
Hollis offered an alternative early voting location near Town Hall.
"They just built a brand new senior center a couple hundred yards away from here," said Hollis. "We said, 'Why don't you use that building?'"
Knotts said the senior center did not suit the board of election's needs.
"The parking in that parking lot is not sufficient in my and my board's opinion, so that is really not the ideal location," she said.
Hollis said he believes the parking is adequate.
"I tried to explain that the amount of parking they have there is essentially the same amount of parking we have at the arts center," he said. "You've got the parking for the senior center. You've got the parking at the library. We have the two adjacent lots next to the senior center they can use."
The Board of Elections will hold a meeting Tuesday, Feb. 20 to discuss other potential voting locations.