For the past week or so, I’ve been serving on the “early shift” as a non-partisan election official at the polls at Talley Student Center at NC State University. We’re just over halfway through North Carolina’s 17 days of early voting. Turnout has been a lot heavier than in previous election cycles, even during this covid-19 pandemic. Overall unofficial voting statistics are posted online each evening after the polls closed, and I’ve followed the burgeoning numbers with interest (http://www.wakegov.com/elections/Pages/default.aspx).
In our mostly urban county, about 1/3 of currently registered voters have already cast ballots in person. Because of continued litigation and voter uncertainty, it’s not totally clear how many absentee ballots have been cast, but our early site each day gets a trickle of personally delivered absentee forms from area voters unsure of the speed or reliability of postal mail return.
The campus is emptier of students than it would be in a non-covid year, but most days so far have featured warm, sunny autumn weather that allows for socially distanced outdoor studying, playing, dining, and waiting in voting lines. We get a fair number of voters who sport NCSU themed masks, shirts or t-shirts. On the second day of voting, it rained until mid-afternoon, but voters waited with umbrellas anyway, and our overall voter total surpassed opening day.
The pandemic has changed some of the logistics of early voting. Our site benefited indirectly from pandemic changes on the campus—we have a much bigger, airier enclosure for this year’s voting process, with 64 socially distanced stations for filling out ballots. All staff members are required to wear protective face masks, with face shields and protective gloves recommended. Each worker’s station has a protective plastic barrier in front of it. Hand sanitizer and cleaning solutions are abundant and frequently used. Extra masks and gloves are available for voters who want them but do not have their own. Voters may opt to vote without masks if they choose, but few so far have made that choice.
The basic voting process remains the same: voters first check in with an application table official to make sure their voting record is current. If all checks out, they take a printed “application to vote” form to a ballot station where they exchange the ATV for one of the many ballot styles for different addresses in our county. Each voter hand-feeds his/her completed ballot into a voting tabulator, with the option of getting an “I voted early” sticker to go with the individual “covid-19 souvenir” pen he/she was given at the voting enclosure entrance. One continuing feature of early voting in North Carolina is “same day registration”—new or new-to-county voters may present appropriate identification to register and vote on the same day.
Voting rules preclude me from taking notes about individual voters, but a few of the voters I’ve processed have been memorable beyond note taking. One older man came in the first or second day, carrying two large tote bags and rolling a suitcase. His skin was roughened, his clothes somewhat worn. His registration information was in the voter database; I couldn’t tell whether his address indicated a homeless shelter.
Partly because our building is near the campus athletic complex, we get a fair number of sports players and coaches of both genders and multiple ethnicities. My favorite so far has been a recently-turned-18 basketball player fresh from practice who appeared with several shorter teammates. His head was well above the top of my plastic barrier. He was careful to maintain social distance while he gave me his name and address. Someone else with exactly the same name, but a different address and earlier birth date, lived in our county.
“Are you by any chance a ‘junior’”? I asked.
“Yes!” he answered. “Would it be hard to add that to my record?”
“No problem.” I always enjoy making the name and address changes that can be done during early voting with minimal hassle.
After I’d made the change and printed out his name change and ATV forms, I noticed an older, less tall gentleman in the background who might have been either a coach or the “senior.” Reassured that his player or son would get to vote unimpeded, the older man left.