Editor’s Note: For an update to this article, scroll to the end for another opportunity for public input.
By Terry E. Cohen
While many area residents were in the throes of Trick-or-Treat preparations or recovering from festivities, local governments and agencies were gearing up for the demands of public participation in civic affairs, already underway or starting at the crack of November. From early voting and ultimately the Nov. 8 Election Day to public hearings and a comment period on transit in Orange County, opportunities abound for people to be involved in democracy.
Voting made easy
Today, Nov. 1 by 5 p.m. marks the last day to request absentee ballots by mail from the Orange County Board of Elections (BOE), which has everything online a voter needs to participate in the election process. With early voting and same-day voter registration still in action at six different “One-Stop Early Voting” sites daily until Saturday, Nov. 5, at 3 p.m., those already registered to vote and those still needing to register are both accommodated by these sites.
Same-day voter registration means that any voter of eligible age (18 years or older on or before the general election) with 30 days or more of county residency, meeting all other requirements as listed here, can register during the early voting period only at one of the six sites—and then go vote. Proof of residency must be brought, which includes (but is not limited to) documents such as utility bills, bank statements, government checks and North Carolina driver’s licenses.
Especially notable in the voting process is, while photo IDs such as driver’s licenses may be accepted for registering, they are not—emphasis on the not—required for voting in the state of North Carolina. The decision of a three-judge superior court panel, issued in September 2021 on the Holmes v. Moore case found that requiring a voter to present a photo ID at elections violated the North Carolina Constitution.
The same-day process is especially helpful for students who may wish to change from voting in their out-of-area home locale to casting ballots where they spend a greater part of the year as residents, as well as for recent transplants—as long as those potential voters have met the 30-day residency requirement.
Also important is the election board’s assistance supporting voters, including those with disabilities. Every early voting site and every Election Day precinct site offers curbside voting to those who can’t enter a voting place “without physical assistance due to age or disability.” The Orange County BOE site has a search option for those who need to identify their Nov. 8 polling place or state legislative district. Two of the early voting sites serve as precinct voting stations, but the other four locations close at the end of the early voting period.
For anyone still having questions, accessing the board’s website or this “Voter Information Guide” link is a quick solution. The board even provides a number for texting inquiries 24/7, 919-246-8773. If questions still remain, the board’s phone number is 919-245-2350.
Public hearings and input are on tap
Tonight (Nov. 1) at 7 p.m., the Orange County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) will hold a public hearing on the draft 2022 Orange County Transit Plan, which updates the long-range 2020 plan. The update includes two capital projects and five service improvements as the county seeks to meet transportation needs. Towns such as Chapel Hill and Carrboro have a stake in both the planning and the outcome, with numerous residents dependent on bus service.
The county meeting takes place in the Whitted Building, 300 West Tryon St., in Hillsborough. (The BOCC also has a public hearing on the HOME-ARP Allocation Plan, which supports housing, services and shelter in the county, including Chapel Hill and Carrboro.)
The 2022 transit plan is on the table during the public comment period at the Carrboro Town Council meeting, also at 7 p.m. tonight, where the council has a resolution of support for the plan at ready for likely passage.
According to the Carrboro’s meeting materials, the plan is anticipated to be adopted by the Orange County BOCC in December. Carrboro’s council meets in Room 110, Town Hall, 301 W. Main St.
Yet, the Durham-Chapel Hill-Carrboro Metropolitan Planning Organization (DCHC MPO), the transportation planning organization that serves the region, is still taking public comment until Nov. 8 to Aaron Cain, the planning manager for DCHC MPO, at email@example.com or (919) 560-4366.
The Town of Chapel Hill will also offer public comment time at its meeting Nov. 2, 7 p.m., at 405 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., Chapel Hill. For example, Item #6 on the agenda on a zoning modification for 800 S. Merritt Mill Rd., the affordable housing complex known as Perry Place, was moved from the lengthy October 19 council session. While the issues don’t have the large scope of transit plan—nor do they seem particularly controversial in any way—they do affect the cost of developing the property and make modest changes that may interest potential residents.
Regardless of the size of a plan or project or its place in an approval process queue, public input gives governmental agencies the chance to learn about public use of accommodations and services in real time, concerns or misconceptions among residents, little details that may prevent unintended consequences or missed needs—even an occasional comment of thanks or praise for addressing a long-overdue issue.
UPDATE: This update adds that Nov. 2, the Orange County Solid Waste Management Department has announced its Road to Zero Master Plan public survey and public input meeting schedule are available. The survey will remain open through Dec. 7 and is available at this link.
The four public meetings include two in November, one via Zoom on Nov. 14 and another that is in person on Nov. 15. Two additional meetings are slated for December. TLR’s previous coverage of the Zero Waste initiative and related topics can found here. More information can be found at the division’s website, on the Road to Zero Waste site, by emailing ZeroWaste@orangcountync.gov, or by calling 919-968-2788.
Terry E. Cohen is the editor of The Local Reporter. She also writes articles for a global media firm on topics related to Environment, Social and Governance (ESG) in business and industry.