WADESBORO, N.C. – Voters in Anson County had to wait an hour longer to cast their ballots Saturday morning, after copper thieves cut internet lines at the county’s only early voting site.
Thieves stripped 16 air conditioning units of copper at the Anson County Schools administration office in Wadesboro, doing $180,000 - $200,000 worth of damage, according to interim Wadesboro Police Chief Thedis Spencer.
“Totally taken apart -- compressors gone, pieces of copper wiring gone, just really taken aback,” said interim elections director Steve Adams. He showed up early to set up the polls, only to find police in the parking lot and A/C units stripped bare.
It was another hour before he realized the site’s internet lines were also down – just as he was about to open the doors.
“It was mass panic for a moment. I said, ‘Oh Lord, do I walk out or what?!’” Adams kidded.
Thirty to 40 voters waited patiently in line while technicians fixed the problem. Some left and came back, but most stayed, said Adams.
Elections board members scrambled to get permission to stay open later, and extended the hours until 5 p.m.
“I'm sorry they had to extend it that way, but at least I got my vote in today!” said Demetrice Elliott cheerfully as she left the building at 5:03.
Spencer said he’s never seen a copper theft this large from one building.
“I'm pretty sure there's more than one person doing this,” he said. “I think it’s a crew.”
He also said he believes the thieves are not amateurs because of how quickly and efficiently they worked. They knew how to cut wires without getting electrocuted, and remove copper tubing full of Freon – which can be poisonous if inhaled.
“They have to have the machinery, tools, and the know-how,” he remarked. The value of the copper, he said, was only a fraction of the damage done.
But one thing thieves did not steal, said Adams, the elections director, was anyone’s opportunity to vote. He credits quick work of Board of Elections members using e-mail, phones, and social media to get the word out about extended hours.
“Some things you can’t control, but everyone pulled together and made it happen and that's what matters most,” he said.