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'One vote does matter': Your local guide to early voting in Orange County

John Chandler, 58, of Chapel Hill, fills out his ballot for the local election at Chapel of the Cross on Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2019. Early voting for the Chapel Hill local election is available here on weekdays from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday, Oct. 27 from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m.

Finding time to vote on Election Day can be difficult, but there’s another way to cast your vote without having to play chess with your schedule on the first Tuesday of November.

Early voting provides opportunities for people to vote before Nov. 5, which is the general election voting day for municipal elections in Orange County. 

There are a few differences between early voting and conventional Election Day voting, as Orange County Director of Elections Rachel Raper is keen to point out.

According to her, citizens voting early can go to any of the four polling stations open this year instead of having to go to their assigned location. To vote in Chapel Hill, they may head to the Chapel of the Cross on Franklin Street or the Seymour Senior Center. Those wishing to vote in other locations across the county may head to Carrboro Town Hall or the Orange County Board of Elections office in Hillsborough. 

Another important distinction is that those who are not registered may register on-site and vote on the same day during early voting.

“They’ll take part of that same-day voting registration process, so long as they provide proof of their residency,” Raper said. “Whereas on Election Day, you do not have that same option.”

Early voting started last Wednesday in Hillsborough and began on Saturday at the Chapel of the Cross polling station.

Precinct Chief Judge James Weathers, who volunteers at the Franklin Street polling station, said he believes convenience is the main thing the voting station in the chapel aims to provide to voters.

In addition to being open to walk-in voters, steps have been taken to accommodate for those with physical disabilities. A parking space in the chapel’s parking lot has been designated for curbside voting, so those who are unable to step out of the car can still have their voices heard at the ballot box. 

“It’s very important that everybody that can vote votes,” said Connie Wilkins, who is in charge of the ballot box table at Chapel of the Cross. 

In the same spirit of accessibility, many organizations in the area are attempting to raise awareness for this year’s municipal elections.

Gabriel Fields is the campus organizer for NCPIRG Students, a nonpartisan student-advocacy group. On Wednesday, he and several of his colleagues were stationed outside of Lenoir Hall to advocate for many issues, with early voting being squarely among them. 

Fields said the organization registered over 300 students to vote for this year’s municipal elections at UNC, which is only 200 shy of the total they registered for last year’s midterm elections. 

"It’s an indication of increased civic engagement on campus, which is honestly our goal," Fields said. “We’re trying to institutionalize the vote, get a voting culture here at UNC, make it normal, make it easier for students.” 

He also emphasized making sure students take who is elected to public office into their own hands.

“We just want young people to have their voice heard, as opposed to leaving the way their future is decided to other people," he said.

Carinne Geil, a UNC senior majoring in chemistry, aims to do just that. Though she has not yet voted, she is strongly considering voting early because it presents her with an opportunity to vote on her own time. 

“It’s more convenient just because you have a larger window to vote,” she said.

With many people heading to the polls over the next few days leading up to Nov. 5, Raper stressed the importance of voting.

“I encourage everyone to vote and vote as early as possible. Voting truly makes a difference,” she said. “One vote does matter.”

Orange County’s four polling stations are open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays, closing an hour early on Halloween. They're also open this Sunday from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. Early voting ends on Nov. 1, and polls are open on Election Day between 6:30 a.m. and 7:30 p.m.

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