Like all things 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic is having its impact on the General Election. For Swain County, that means more absentee ballots and a need for more poll workers.
As of 10 a.m. on Monday, the Swain County Board of Elections Office had received a request for 221 absentee ballots— that’s quite a larger number than usual. Those ballots will start going out to voters on Sept. 4.
In the past couple of weeks, political efforts have been made to plant distrust about voting by mail, led primarily by comments made by President Donald Trump.
By mid-week, it was announced planned cuts at the United States Postal Service will be postponed until after the election.
On Monday, a mailer sent by a Trump campaign that includes an absentee ballot request and a Trump campaign advertisement may have added to the confusion among voters. The forms were among the absentee ballot requests being processed Monday morning, with the office confirming with the state the forms are legal. The form itself is normal, but it has the addition of a page with a Trump campaign advertisement.
While there are more absentee ballots than there are in a normal year, the process is the same and the options of voting for North Carolinians are the same as in previous elections: absentee, early voting and voting at their precinct location on election day.
Judy Allman, Swain County BOE executive director, explains the process of absentee ballots and how it is a secure way to vote.
“It’s very secure,” she said. “All we do is request the absentee. We put it into the computer, and when the ballots come Sept. 4, we mail it the voter. They can have one witness now, and if they ask for assistance they can get assistance on there but there’s also a box if they assisted with it, then that person signs.
“The voter mails it back, and the ballots are put into the safe and not opened until 2 p.m. on Election Day,” Allman continued. “Anyone is welcome to come and see as we feed them into the tabulator, and those results are not released until 7:30 that night when the polls close.”
Requests for a regular absentee ballot can be mailed, faxed or emailed. The ballots can either be returned by mail or dropped off in person.
The next option for voters is one-stop early voting. In Swain County, the two locations for early voting are the Board of Elections Office on Hwy 19 South, and Birdtown Community Center. This is another option for people who want to avoid the potential crowds on Election Day.
For those voting in person, the Board of Elections will be following the guidelines in place due to the public health pandemic.
“I would recommend early voting for anyone. It’s easy, safe, and they don’t have to deal with the crowds,” Allman said. At the Board of Elections Office, the number of voters allowed in the building at once will be limited to 10 people.
“There will be plexi glass up; they will be offered a mask if they want one,” Allman described. “We will have a greeter here to give the voter a mask, their own pen and hand sanitizer.”
Then, they will state their date of birth and will receive their Authorization to Vote form, return it and then step to another desk for their ballot. Once they cast their ballots, they will leave the building at the back door.
The need for poll workers
In a normal year it can be a challenge to recruit enough poll workers to man the polls for both early voting and at the precincts on Election Day. This year, Allman, who has recently been promoted to director after being deputy director, is both working to fill the deputy position and recruit around 35 poll workers.
The office anticipates an increase in curbside voters, will have the additional absentee ballots to process and to meet the new COVID-19 guidelines.
“I need extra people to work,” Allman said.
The office has received federal COVID-19 funding to address the issue as well as a slue of supplies from pens to sanitizer. The good news is with the funding, Allman’s office is offering a pay raise on election day and for early voting for poll workers.
She’s since contacted some of the previous poll workers, and it’s been a mix of people who are comfortable with working the public and those who are not, but the increase in pay has boosted interest, she said.
She is also pleased to see that some younger people have gotten involved as poll workers.
“These are long hours, especially during one-stop,” she said.
People who are able to work as poll workers must be a registered voter, cannot be politically involved with any candidate’s campaign, and must pass a criminal background check. The Board of Elections approves the poll workers and they receive training for one-stop and Election Day.
Allman said she was most grateful for Kaye Winchester for helping out at the office as she oversees everything in her new role after the retirement of previous director Joanie Weeks, who held the position for 37 years.
“Kaye Winchester has been wonderful in here filling in and she’s worked with us for over 8 years,” Allman said.
She added she’s grateful for her board, who works well together.
Those interested in becoming a poll worker should contact the Board of Elections Office at 488-6177.