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How Are Some North Carolinians Planning To Vote During The Pandemic?

Boxes of absentee ballot requests sit at the Durham County Board of Elections office in Durham, N.C. on Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020. The county has seen an increase in the number of absentee ballot requests for the 2020 election during the coronavirus pandemic.
Boxes of absentee ballot requests sit at the Durham County Board of Elections office in Durham, N.C. on Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020. The county has seen an increase in the number of absentee ballot requests for the 2020 election during the coronavirus pandemic.
Boxes of absentee ballot requests sit at the Durham County Board of Elections office in Durham, N.C. on Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020. The county has seen an increase in the number of absentee ballot requests for the 2020 election during the coronavirus pandemic.
Credit Ben McKeown / For WUNC
Boxes of absentee ballot requests sit at the Durham County Board of Elections office in Durham, N.C. on Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020. The county has seen an increase in the number of absentee ballot requests for the 2020 election during the coronavirus pandemic.

Interest in absentee-by-mail voting is way up this year in North Carolina. Voters are submitting absentee ballot request forms at a record pace — requests statewide are already 10 times ahead of where they were four years ago —and elections officials are working hard to keep up.

Meet some North Carolinians and see how they're planning to vote in November:

Erin Batten-Hicks, 18, a sophomore at UNC - Chapel Hill
Credit Rusty Jacobs / WUNC
Erin Batten-Hicks, 18, a sophomore at UNC - Chapel Hill

Batten-Hicks, 18, is a sophomore at UNC - Chapel Hill and a Durham County resident living on campus.

Batten-Hicks, who is registered unaffiliated, voted for the first time in the March primaries. She's always been civically engaged and excited to vote – her mother got her a registration form for her 18 th birthday.

She says she was looking forward to voting in person this fall but has decided to vote absentee-by-mail over fears of the coronavirus. She imagines nightmare scenarios that would prevent her from getting to a polling place.

"I just want to have that guarantee that I will be able to vote," she said. "You can’t socially distance in a car, it’s really hard to socially distance on a bus, so even if I can’t get back to Durham because of all the COVID stuff, that I’ll still be able to vote."

Berkeley Bryant
Credit Rusty Jacobs / WUNC
Berkeley Bryant

Berkeley Bryant, 26, is registered unaffiliated and lives in Alamance County.

She has voted absentee before when she was in college in Colorado and away from her then-home state of Texas.

Bryant said deciding to vote absentee-by-mail this year was a "no-brainer," though she does have concerns about the state's ability to handle the high volume of absentee-by-mail ballots expected this year.

"You know, I didn't feel comfortable going in person," Bryant said. "I was concerned about my health, concerned about the health of my family and friends that I'm still being around."

Gennell Curry
Credit Ben McKeown / For WUNC
Gennell Curry

Gennell Curry, 46, lives in Granville County, works as a paralegal, and is mother of four grown children and grandmother of one boy. She is registered unaffiliated.

Curry was raised by her grandparents, who shared with her first-hand accounts of the Civil Rights era. She has always voted in person since she was 18. She recalls taking her kids to the polls when they were growing up and has taken her grandson, too. Curry says she will vote in person again this fall because she cherishes the communal spirit at the polls and sees it as a sacred rite and way of thanking all the civil rights heroes who fought for her right to vote.

“My way of saying ‘thank you’ is actually going to the polls and actually exercising that right to vote, not just me but my children and my children’s children," Curry said. "To be able to do that, to continue that legacy and continue that tradition, I feel is very important.”

Amanda Jones
Credit Rusty Jacobs / WUNC
Amanda Jones

Amanda Jones, 29, lives in Wake County and is registered unaffiliated. She is a graduate student at NC State studying school psychology.

Jones has never voted absentee before but says she and her husband have requested absentee-by-mail ballots this year due to fears of either contracting or, if they were possibly asymptomatic, transmitting the coronavirus to others – though she knows counties are taking precautions to keep polling sites safe by handing out masks, offering individual pens/styluses, cleaning voting booths between uses, providing sanitizer, maintaining safe spacing, and distancing between voters.

"If I don’t need to be around older people, in particular, I feel like it’s my social duty to not, just to make sure everybody stays as safe as possible,” Jones said.

Bob Randall
Credit Rusty Jacobs / WUNC
Bob Randall

Bob Randall, 73, is a registered Republican who lives in Orange County.

He says he will vote in person this year and is not at all concerned about the coronavirus — noting that polling sites will have sanitizer, officials will keep people safely distanced, and masks, individual styluses and pens will be distributed.

"I have no concern whatsoever," he said. "To me, it's no different than going into Food Lion and making a purchase of groceries and probably safer."

 

Juanita Young
Credit Rusty Jacobs / WUNC
Juanita Young

Juanita Young, 74, lives in Wake County, is a registered Democrat and full-time volunteer who writes grant proposals and helps raise funds for a social service non-profits.

She is not voting absentee-by-mail this year — she will vote in person during early voting period. She says civil rights leaders, activists, heroes who have come before her have fought too hard and sacrificed too much for her not to go to the polls. She says she’ll wear a mask and take precautions, as she does when she goes to the grocery store.

“I would crawl to the polls if I had to," Young said. "I don’t want an absentee ballot, there’s too much doubt running around right now, but if I had to and couldn’t get there I’d get someone to take me.”

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