by: Greg Suskin Updated:
SHELBY, N.C. - The next time people in Shelby stand in line to vote, it'll likely be in a different place than they are used to. There will also be fewer places to cast a ballot.
In a 2-1 vote this week, the Cleveland County Board of Elections decided to close several polling places in Shelby.
The merger cuts the city's voting precincts from seven to four. It eliminates several fire stations and a church that have long served as polling places.
Elections officials point out that this has been done several times before and they said in a press release Thursday that this instance is no different.
Officials cite convenience as a reason for the mergers because the remaining polling places offer more parking and space and are better suited for elections.
Fire houses used as polling locations are often cramped and difficult to access.
Those changes suit Matt Lewis.
He's a voter and a firefighter at one of the stations no longer being used as a polling place.
"These places are actually bigger that they're wanting to consolidate in which can hold more people. I think it's good," Lewis said.
The Board of Elections also said in a press release that it has increased the hours for early voting for the 2014 general election by extending hours at several places.
It is an effort to boost turnout.
Cleveland County voters were at the polls Thursday casting ballots in a runoff election. Some, like Charles Hogue weren't happy about the changes ahead.
"I think they need to have more places to vote, not narrow it down," he said. "The reality of it is, not everybody always has the gas money to travel very far."
NAACP President Dante Murphy told Channel 9 said new state voter ID laws and the local push to merge precincts are aimed at discouraging some from voting.
"This is about making it harder for people to vote," Murphy said. "If you really want to embrace people's ability to vote, why not open more?"
Murphy said this was not a race issue saying the elderly and others will find it harder to vote because of travel distance and confusion over the changes.
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