How Union County Is Preparing For The 2020 Election
We are less than two months away from Election Day, and counties across North Carolina are gearing up to serve voters and their changing needs during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Absentee ballots, low numbers of poll workers and safety at the polls are just some of the issues counties across the state are encountering. WFAE reporter Alexandra Watts recently checked in with Union County to see how they're managing the run-up to the November election, and spoke with WFAE's "All Things Considered" host Gwendolyn Glenn.
Glenn: Let’s start with absentee ballot requests. What does the situation look like there?
Watts: Well, in most North Carolina counties, there has been an increase in absentee voting requests. Union County has had around 15-16,000 absentee ballot requests so far. That is an increase from around 4,000 during the 2016 election.
Glenn: And the county is also seeing an increase in an unexpected area. Can you talk about that?
Watts: Yeah, so, there has been a need for poll workers across the state in all counties. But Union County has actually seen an increase in people wanting to help out.
I spoke with the county’s director of elections, Kristin Jacumin, about how her county’s voters have responded.
Jacumin: “It’s like they have seen or recognized the need that we have this year for elections … and the community has stepped up. A lot of our precinct officials are elderly or older and are maybe more susceptible to COVID and maybe not be able to work.”
Watts: People of all ages, including younger residents are stepping up to work at the polls. And the county also has a growing list of alternates for backup.
Glenn: These poll workers will be working during early voting and on Election Day — both of which have changed this year. Alexandra, if we can focus on early voting — how has it changed for Union County during this pandemic?
Watts: Union County has eight early-voting sites this year — there used to be seven, but they added one in the western part of the county. They’ve also moved some sites to larger areas to better accommodate voters with social distancing.
There’s also weekend early voting. In the past, early voters in Union County could vote on Saturday, but now there will be Sunday early voting, as well.
Glenn: With the coronavirus pandemic, safety measures will be in place. For Union County voters going to the polls, what can they expect?
Watts: So, areas like booths and tables are going to be sanitized after each voter. And each voter will also get a single-use pen to fill out their ballot — there won’t be sharing a pen with another voter. Masks will also be provided for those who need one. To be clear, voters are not required to wear a mask, but poll workers are.
Glenn: With so much changing this year for the election, Alexandra, what kind of questions is the Union County elections director getting from voters?
Watts: So, director Kristin Jacumin says she is hearing confusion over voters who are getting more than one absentee ballot forms.
Jacumin: The parties have sent out absentee ballot request forms along with several advocacy groups, so they are receiving these forms in duplicate in the mail. And they are confused by that. ... The elections office — state or local — did not mail those forms.
Watts: So, if you receive multiple absentee ballot requests, don’t be alarmed. Just make sure you only mail in one ballot request.
She also says it’s important people make a point of going to official sources like the county or the state election board website to answer their voting questions -- and not depend on some meme a friend put on Facebook for voting information.
And it’s also important to note that Union County voters make sure they are getting information relevant to their area -- other counties and states have different procedures.
Glenn: OK, Alexandra, thank you for being here with us this afternoon.
Watts: Thank you.
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