At a specially called meeting Oct. 9, the Orange County Board of Commissioners voted to protect the final two days of early voting at the Board of Elections site in downtown Hillsborough by denying a request to reschedule Hog Day to Nov. 2-3.
Hog Day was postponed from its original date of Sept. 14-15 because of Hurricane Florence. Organizers had hoped to reschedule the event for Friday and Saturday, Nov. 2-3.
The Orange County Board of Elections asked the county not to reschedule the event to those dates because of a conflict with the final two days of the early voting period. All four members of the Board of Elections signed a letter requesting the Hog Day festival be rescheduled or relocated away from the normal downtown Hillsborough location that uses the county-owned River Park and David Price Farmer's Market Pavilion.
Members of the Board of Elections and Board of County Commissioners expressed concern that congestion on Churton Street and in surrounding neighborhoods and streets could deter residents from attempting to vote.
“If you are talking about 10,000 people coming into downtown, it is going to make it difficult for people to get to the polls,” said Mark Dorosin, chair of the Orange County Board of Commissioners. “I just don’t see it possible to accommodate [Hog Day] and the obligations we have to promote the most equitable and efficient access to the polling places.”
Other commissioners echoed Dorosin's sentiments.
“Everybody has expressed their support and appreciation of Hog Day," said Commissioner Barry Jacobs. "It’s our job as county commissioners to protect the opportunity to vote. I have no doubt you are trying to do all you can to accommodate the people who are coming to vote, but the fact remains there are other forces lurking in our society to make it difficult, and we don’t want to make that more true in Orange County than it has to be.”
“It’s inconceivable to me that it wouldn’t affect the number of people who vote that day," said Commissioner Mark Marcoplos. "We absolutely have to put the right of the citizens to vote at the top of our priority list. The last day of voting is really important because of the sheer numbers of people who vote and the fact it’s the last chance for same-day voter registration. It’s the last chance for people to make sure they are registered.”
“It is our job to make sure people can vote without any obstruction whatsoever," said Vice Chair Penny Rich.
The board voted 5-1 to deny the request. Commissioner Earl McKee dissented and Commissioner Mia Burroughs was unable to attend the meeting.
In 2014, the last mid-term election, more than 800 people showed up to vote at the Board of Elections site on each of the final two days of early voting, which are traditionally the most heavily utilized days during the early voting period, said Orange County Deputy Manager Travis Myren during his presentation to the Board of County Commissioners.
“Both parties, observers believe, are highly motivated to get out the vote, so we are expecting a little higher turnout in 2018, exceeding 1,000 voters per day at the Board of Elections site," said Myren.
Myren said another factor that could increase turnout is that the 2018 early voting plan includes longer hours than the same days in 2014. All five early voting sites will be open until 7 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 2, and from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 3. In 2014, polls closed at 6 p.m. on the final Friday of early voting and 1 p.m. on the final Saturday.
Hog Day organizers had already proposed starting the festival at 6 p.m. on Friday and a 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. schedule on Saturday, which means that both days of the festival would overlap the scheduled early voting hours.
Commissioners asked organizers to consider other dates or locations for the popular festival.