Last week I wrote about a county funding shortfall that could possibly impact local voting in the presidential election in November to what might be a serious degree. Presidential elections have the highest turnout by far and the greatest probability for problems. But the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on the economy has crippled governments at all levels across the land. All budgets are being cut, some severely, to keep services afloat and not burden already struggling households with a higher taxes.
This afternoon (June 16) I updated that post. I wrote:
Monday night, June 15, my friend, Times-News reporter and former newspaper colleague Isaac Groves posted this on Twitter from the budget hearing of the Alamance County Board of Commissioners.
I want to say first and foremost that I appreciate the commissioners making this essential move, which will likely allow the Board of Elections to operate as many early voting sites as it normally would instead of just one. It also helps with dozens of other matters and mandates the office has to meet with the state. The November election this year is a big one. Besides the presidential race there are races for U.S. Senate, U.S. House, N.C. House and Senate, county commissioners and Board of Education, to name just a few. The logistics of this large an election are tough enough without a global pandemic to deal with as well.
So thanks to the county. It was something that needed to be done. Here is a link to the story just posted by the Times-News about the public hearing. The vote was 4-1 with an obviously conflicted Amy Galey, the board chair, voting against. She cited previously controversial budget votes during her term, including one about funding for the Alamance-Burlington School System as part of her thought process. The ABSS budget faces steep cuts this year. Youth sports have been cancelled due to the pandemic. Galey said she is saddened by how much children are impacted by current events and what the outcome of it all might be. The Times-News story includes video of the meeting.
Budget votes are a critical test for a county board of city council. Every June as the new fiscal year looms, tough choices are made. And often education is in the center of the debate. Priorities do change from year to year — and 2020 has been like no year before in recent memory. In the new approved budget, education does take a hit, but with the support of ABSS chair Allison Gant and Superintendent Bruce Benson, according to the Times-News.
In the next few months, ensuring a sound election process and easy voting procedures is the priority. I’m glad a majority of the commissioners see it that way. Three are not running for re-election — Tim Sutton, Bill Lashley Sr. and Eddie Boswell. Galey is running for the N.C. Senate seat now held by Rick Gunn, who is not seeking re-election. Steve Carter is not up for re-election this cycle.
Noah Read, secretary to the Board of Elections, cited the county’s vote in support of the elections office and its director Kathy Holland in a letter he submitted on Tuesday. The text follows:
When the Commissioners voted 4 to 1 last night to put necessary elections money in the Board of Election actual budget, and not hold it in their “designated fund balance,” it showed that they understand the importance of safe, secure, and accessible elections to county voters.
The County Manager’s recommendation that the County should keep a quarter of a million dollars or 30% of the County’s election budget in a contingency fund just does not make sense. The Board of Elections budget should not serve as a funding cushion for the County, even during a revenue crisis.
The Board of Elections has many time-sensitive state mandates. To fulfill these mandates we have to make many financial commitments. We have to secure voting sites and make commitments for technology and security support. We must print ballots and other election materials, and we have to hire and train all of the part-time elections staff that are essential to conducting an election. The Board of Elections can not meet these mandates if our funding is uncertain.
And I think the Commissioner vote for a funding commitment also shows the confidence they have in Director Kathy Holland and her staff. In her twenty years as our County’s Elections Director, she has worked tirelessly to run our county elections efficiently. She has always managed to stretch money, staff, and resources to work within the County’s budget while effectively conducting local elections.
Alamance County Board of Election
And finally a tip of the hat to Holland, longtime director of the county elections office. She has the budgeting wisdom to have money left over at the end of the year, money that was returned to her office in a time of need.