How different will Chatham’s November election be?

‘People need to know about how to vote more than ever before’

Posted 7/17/20

It goes without saying that for voters and poll workers, November’s general election won’t look normal in Chatham County.

Just how different remains to be seen, but for elections board …

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How different will Chatham’s November election be?

‘People need to know about how to vote more than ever before’

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Posted

It goes without saying that for voters and poll workers, November’s general election won’t look normal in Chatham County.

Just how different remains to be seen, but for elections board Executive Director Pandora Pascal, one thing seems certain in the age of COVID-19: an increase in absentee voting.

In the meantime, as COVID-19 continues to spread and take lives, both the state and Chatham County Board of Elections have been working to put safeguards in place to protect voters and poll workers leading up to November’s general election.

“People need to know about how to vote more than ever before,” Paschal said.

Paschal said the elections board has been working on a series of options for addressing this year’s elections. Though the final plans will not be voted on until its July 21 meeting, she shared several of the options under consideration.

For example, there has been discussions on expanding the number of early voting sites in the northeastern portion of the county, where the population is densest, to ease traffic flows in early voting sites. The board is also considering, based on guidance from the North Carolina State Board of Elections, extending early voting hours and potentially including Sundays.

The board is also changing several polling sites on election day so that voters can cast their ballots safely. The board determined that some of the polling sites will not allow for the safety and social distancing measures required to keep both voters and workers safe. The Chatham County Board of Education has already agreed to make election day a teacher workday so that schools will be available for polling sites. And while not all the precinct sites have been decided, Paschal said that voters should be aware that their regular polling site in their precinct may change.

In addition, there are concerns about having enough poll workers to manage sites during early voting and on election day. Typically, polls workers are residents who are retired and can therefore give their time to assist voters. That age group is also one of the more susceptible to contracting and falling very ill from COVID-19.

Both the state and the county board of elections are participating in a program called Democracy Heroes. The project is encouraging people “of all ages” to “protect democracy, learn about the elections process, serve their communities and get paid in the process,” according to a release from Chatham County last week about the program. The state has created two different “election worker surveys” — one for adults and one for students age 17 and up — to help fill poll worker spots.

At the same time, Paschal said that it’s important for voters to “know there are options” for voting.

“If they don’t feel comfortable, if they are high risk or just afraid, they can request an absentee ballot,” Paschal said.

Absentee ballots are those that are requested by the voter, mailed to their home, completed by the voter, then returned by mail to the local board of elections office. On a typical year, absentee ballots make up for about 5% of all ballots cast. Both the state and the county are estimating that number to rise to at least 30%. Paschal said that while the process is not complicated, it is important for voters to know how to “do it right.”

Nancy Jacobs, an activist who lives in the northeastern portion of the county, has been working with friends and neighbors to help in educating the public on how to absentee vote. The group calls itself “Neighbors for Safe and Accessible Voting.” They have created flyers and other materials to walk voters through the absentee voting process, from request to submittal.

“We made them to share with everyone in Chatham County,” Jacobs said. “We just want people to get out and vote.”

Any registered voter can request an absentee ballot by sending completed absentee ballot request form by mail to the Chatham County Board of Elections. The form, which can be found on the Chatham County Board of Elections website (www.chathamnc.org/government/departments-programs/board-of-elections), must include the voter’s name, date of birth and either a driver license number or the last four digits of the voter’s social security number. The form also requires residence and contact information.

Residents can request their absentee ballot now, but the ballots will not be mailed out until September. Once voters receive their ballot, it is important to complete the ballot correctly and return it to the local elections office in a timely fashion. All absentee ballots require the voter’s signature and a signature of a witness in order to be considered valid. Also, it is important for voters to know that it may require two postage stamps because of the ballot’s size.

Paschal suggests voters who are unfamiliar with the process call the elections office and staff can assist with the requests. The elections office also is creating multi-partisan assistance teams to help voters complete absentee ballots. These teams include members of both political parties to ensure accountability.

With all the changes and final plans still subject to change based on additional guidance from the state, Paschal said voters need “to be diligent” in seeking information about where and how to vote.

“Don’t wait for the last minute to find out where you can vote,” Paschal said. “Any voter can call our office or visit the website to get the information as soon as it’s available. We want everyone to vote and we want everyone to be safe.”

Casey Mann can be reached at CaseyMann@Chathamnr.com.

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