Our Opinion: Take advantage of early voting options in Wilson elections

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A trip to the firehouse, school, church or community building to cast a ballot each spring and fall is a time-honored tradition for many of Wilson County’s steadfast voters, those for whom Election Day is a holiday in its own right.

For first-time voters who’ve only recently received their electoral franchise upon their 18th birthday, for eligible citizens who don’t vote regularly and for young professionals new to their neighborhoods, however, the biennial custom can hold less sentimental sway. Precinct names and the locations of corresponding polling places may be unfamiliar. Busy work, school and family schedules might pose challenges.

Fortunately, we have ample opportunities for early voting in Wilson County. And your vote counts the same whether you cast your ballot today or do so on Nov. 6.

Early voting — called “one-stop” because you can register and vote on the same day — has become the dominant method of participating in North Carolina elections. Statewide, nearly 2.9 million people voted early in the 2016 general election, representing 61.3 percent of all ballots cast. An additional 1.6 million voters showed up on Election Day, 179,263 people mailed in absentee ballots, 21,717 provisional votes were counted and 17,422 ballots were received from deployed military service members and other Tar Heels who were overseas.

In Wilson County, 63.4 percent of voters in the last presidential election took advantage of one-stop early voting while 33.5 percent trekked to the polls on the first Tuesday in November.

The importance of our right and sacred duty to choose our representatives in local, state and federal government is reflected in the wealth of options we have to submit our ballots to be counted. The system is designed as it should be in that any eligible American citizen who resides in North Carolina who chooses to vote can do so. Personal circumstances may necessitate one voting method over another, but there are no obstacles that can’t be overcome.

Election Day stalwarts will continue their proud tradition on Nov. 6. For everyone else — especially those who’ve never voted before and those who have missed a few elections — we’d strongly encourage you to vote early.

Neglected to register or not sure if you’re on the Wilson County voter rolls? Until Nov. 3, that’s no problem. One-stop voting allows you to complete your voter registration form and cast your ballot the same day. There’s no waiting period and no risk of being turned away because you’re not on the list.

Puzzled as to which precinct you reside in and where you’d vote on Election Day? That’s OK; during the early voting period, you can choose from two locations — the Wilson County Board of Elections office at 112 Douglas St. and the Wilson County Health Department’s Lida Blalock Building at 1801 Glendale Drive.

Both voting sites are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. each weekday through Nov. 2, 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. today if you’re reading this Saturday, Oct. 20; 1-5 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 28 and 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 3.

Some churches will transport “souls to the polls” on Oct. 28, and thousands of people will already be in walking distance of the Board of Elections office on Nov. 3, as the North Carolina Whirligig Festival will be going on in downtown Wilson.

With all these convenient options at your disposal, there’s no excuse not to make your vote count in the 2018 midterms.

Wilson County residents will choose their member of Congress — the county’s split between North Carolina’s 1st and 2nd congressional districts, and both races are contested — their sheriff, their state representative and senator, their district attorney, their county commissioners, their school board members and their soil and water conservation district supervisors.

There isn’t a presidential contest or U.S. Senate race on the ballot, but that shouldn’t dampen your enthusiasm. Local and state government have more effect on our day-to-day lives here in Wilson County than what happens in the White House and on Capitol Hill.

It’s your sheriff’s job, not your United States senator’s, to keep your neighborhood safe. Your county commissioners, not the president, determine your property tax rate. And it’s up to you to decide who will speak up for Wilson County interests in the North Carolina General Assembly.

Whatever your political beliefs and whomever you support, we urge you to exercise your right to vote. Don’t let the chance to participate in American democracy slip away.