"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.
The tug-of-war yielded mixed results.
The state did ultimately add nearly 5,900 more hours and 78 more sites to vote early than in 2012. But several counties opened only one polling site during the first week of early voting, slightly denting turnout across the state. Voter turnout dropped by 20 percent in the counties that had multiple polling sites during the first week of early voting in 2012 but just one site during the first week in 2016.
“We currently have more early voting locations and hours open than ever were open under Democrat control,” said North Carolina Republican Party executive director Dallas Woodhouse, denying his party was trying to suppress the Democratic vote.
President Barack Obama praised the expanded early voting opportunities during an election stop in North Carolina on Wednesday.
"Those who wanted to suppress the vote, they're going to fail," he said at University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill in Raleigh. "Right now, there are more one-stop early vote sites in North Carolina than ever before."
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This is what actual rigging looks like.