When Bill McAnulty, an elections board chairman in a mostly white North Carolina county, agreed in July to open a Sunday voting site where black church members could cast ballots after services, the reaction was swift: he was labeled a traitor by his fellow Republicans.
"I became a villain, quite frankly," recalled McAnulty at a state board of elections meeting in September that had been called to resolve disputes over early voting plans. "I got accused of being a traitor and everything else by the Republican Party," McAnulty said.
Following the blowback from Republicans, McAnulty later withdrew his support for the Sunday site.
In an interview with Reuters, he said he ultimately ruled against opening the Sunday voting site in Randolph County because he had "made a mistake in reading the wishes of the voters." He declined to discuss the episode further.
This year's highly charged presidential contest between Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump has stoked accusations by both parties of political meddling in the scheduling of early voting hours in North Carolina, a coveted battleground state with a history of tight elections.
In emails, state and county Republican officials lobbied members of at least 17 county election boards to keep early-voting sites open for shorter hours on weekends and in evenings – times that usually see disproportionately high turnout by Democratic voters. Reuters obtained the emails through a public records request.
The officials also urged county election boards to open fewer sites for residents to cast ballots during early voting that began on Oct. 20 and ends on Saturday.
Civil rights advocates and Democrats launched their own campaigns for expanded early voting hours.