After Matthew: The Election

GREENVILLE, NC (WNCT) – While most of the country has their eyes on our future president. Some residents here in the east are still working to rebuild their homes after Matthew.

Thanks to the storm, some voting precincts will not be in use on election day. Despite the challenges, officials say Tuesday’s election should go without a hitch.

“[It’s the] first time in my life,” said Gary Dixon, a first-time voter.

At 62 years old, He’s taking a trip to the polls for the very first time.

“I never thought of it,” he said with no time off and no way to get there. “The transmission’s third gear doesn’t work.”

People like Dixon, who live in poverty, are statistically less likely to vote.

“They don’t have a lot of time,” explained Marques Thompson, Democracy NC. “Their jobs don’t allow them to take off work. They might be working two or three jobs.”

Thompson said the same people who have little time to vote got hit by Matthew the hardest, “The people who this flood affected were African-Americans and under advantaged people, people who we have the hardest time getting out to vote already because of their conditions and so it was kind of a double whammy.”

“They wanted everybody to abandon their house and I had no place to go, I didn’t know where to go,” said Dixon.

When you’re worried about your house, your safety, when you’re under a mandatory evacuation, voting gets put on the backburner.

“I was nervous, scared,” said Dixon. “The hurricane kind of lifted up my shingles and took some off. It [voting] wasn’t even in my mind.”

Getting to the polls is just half the battle. In some places, floodwaters left precincts in pieces.

“They’re remodeling this whole place, it got flooded,” said Dana King, Lenoir County Board of Elections Director.

In Lenoir County, two precincts were damaged after waist deep water flooded the area.

“Our voting site is right here in this big room,” she said. It was up to her to pick up the pieces. “Matthew, um, kind of presented a lot of problems for us, and challenges that we began to face.”

Both precincts were replaced by local churches and now King just has to get the word out.

“We have six sites,” said King. “Jackson Heights Free Will Baptist Church is the one that’s taking the place for this place.”

With everything eastern North Carolina has endured, Lenoir County’s early voting was a success; a thousand more people compared to 2012.

It’s all thanks to officials who are making sure the public has a place to vote. And groups who want to get them there.

“Our mission is to negate the effects of Matthew, to make sure that all those people that want to vote, will be able to vote, despite what has happened to them,” explained Thompson.

That mission is exactly why Dixon can check voting off the bucket list.

“It wasn’t even in my mind,” said Dixon. “I never thought of it until somebody came to my house and asked me if I voted.”

And for the first time ever, at 62 years old, he participated in an election.

While Matthew affected thousands just like Dixon, it didn’t affect turnout.

Counties like Craven, Beaufort, Pitt, and Lenoir all saw a spike in early voters compared to 2012.

Beaufort County had 13,984 early voters in 2012 and 14,916 in 2016.

Pitt County had 49,112 early voters in 2012 and 54,231 in 2016.

Craven County had 28,334 early voters in 2012 and 32,543 in 2016.

Lenoir County had around 18,000 early voters in 2012 and 19,023 in 2016.


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