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Hike in early voters strains Swain election office

The surge in early voting witnessed in the last election has prompted the Swain County election board to hunt for a new office location.


Their small headquarters was overwhelmed by the droves that voted early in the fall election. Even higher numbers are expected in the 2008 presidential election, when Swain County Election Director Joan Weeks predicts more than half the ballots will be cast during early voting.

“It’s just more convenient,” Weeks said.

Early voting used to be only for those with special circumstances, such as elderly people who couldn’t stand in line on Election Day or people with out-of-town jobs. But in 1999, state lawmakers opened early voting to everyone. It’s grown in popularity ever since.

Staffing individual precincts for three weeks during early voting isn’t possible — instead voters cast their ballots at the county election office.

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But the current office in the Swain County administrative building simply can’t accommodate the crowds.

County commissioners suggested the election board could move into a building located at the recycling center. The election board discussed the idea at its monthly meeting last week. On one hand, they would have plenty of space, plenty of parking and good handicapped access. It would also have high visibility.

“That’s probably the most frequented place in Swain County,” said John Herrin, an election board member.

“They can always throw their garbage out when they come to see us,” Weeks said.

The building at the recycling center currently houses EMS and dispatch. Both are slated to move into the new jail and sheriff’s office when it’s finished, supposedly a year from now. The election office can’t wait until then to move in, however. The election season officially kicks off in February 2008 with the candidate sign-up period.

“To be ready for 2008 we would have to move this summer to make sure everything works,” Weeks said. That means dispatch and EMS would have to squeeze up a bit during the overlap.

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