County’s November elections ‘will probably look different’

BY OLIVIA ROJAS, News + Record Staff
Posted 6/5/20

The Chatham County Board of Elections is preparing for the 2020 general election amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We do plan, as usual, to have early voting,” said Pandora Paschal, director of …

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County’s November elections ‘will probably look different’

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The Chatham County Board of Elections is preparing for the 2020 general election amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We do plan, as usual, to have early voting,” said Pandora Paschal, director of the Chatham County Board of Elections. “Right now, we are looking at some other options, but we don’t have anything concrete. Voting will probably look different. Poll workers will probably have masks, there will probably be plexiglass, there will probably be someone passing out masks if voters don’t already have one on and we will have sanitizing stations for throughout the day. So, it’s going to look different.”

In terms of voter turnout, Paschal doesn’t expect Chatham County’s turnout to waver.

“Chatham County, normally during presidential elections, we have the highest percentage or we have the second in the state in turnout,” she said. “I’m not expecting anything less. I hope people will not allow the virus to stop them from casting their ballot since they have so many options.”

In the meantime, the board is encouraging the absentee mail-in ballots to residents.

“They can do the by-mail ballots,” Paschal said. “We are encouraging people who may be high-risk or don’t want to stand in line to make those requests. Those will not be mailed out until Sept. 1. I hope to encourage people to take advantage of early voting to take some people out of the precincts on election day.”

Paschal said absentee mail-in ballots will be processed in an “open and transparent process.”

“Once we receive the ballots, they go into a locked box and then when the board meets the board examines those envelopes to make sure the voter has done everything that is required of them by law,” she said. “Once the ballots are approved, they [elections board members] open the ballots and they are feed into the tabulator, but those votes are not tallied until election night. They do audits as well. Whatever is on the machine at the end of the meeting should be the beginning count at the next meeting. So, anybody that would like to come observe are more than welcome.”

Franklin Gomez Flores, 26, a resident of Siler City, is seeking a seat as an unaffiliated candidate for the Chatham County Board of Commissioners’ District 5 seat against incumbent Andy Wilkie, a Republican. Flores echoed Paschal’s points.

“If in-person voting is allowed, I hope people will go to early voting versus election day because the line can get overwhelming depending on which precinct you belong to,” he said.

But Gomez Flores said he still has some concerns.

“I’ve never really done a mail-in ballot,” he said. “I’m interested in the process of it. Being able to guarantee individuals that the right person receives their ballot and that it is received and submitted is a concern for me.”

Chatham’s representative in the N.C. House of Representatives, Robert Reives II (D-Chatham), told the News + Record in April that he thinks expanding access to mail-in ballots should be done if it is feasible.

“With this virus, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of middle ground,” he said. “And I’d hate for people to be thinking that they have to risk their lives in order to exercise the right to vote. But that’s part of what being in government is. Whatever you feel about any of these processes shouldn’t matter. What matters is, how do we make sure that this works best for the people that we serve, and if that’s the way to make it work best, let’s get out of the way and let it work.”

In addition to major federal and state offices, contested races in Chatham’s November election include:

• Chatham County Board of Commissioners: Dist. 1, 2 and 5.

• Chatham County Board of Education: Dist. 1 and 2.

• Chatham County Register of Deeds.

• N.C. House of Representatives, Dist. 54.

• N.C. Senate, Dist. 23.

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