As Voter Registration Deadline Hits, Board Of Elections Prepares For Early Voting In A Pandemic
Early voting is almost upon us. High school gyms, libraries, even the Spectrum Center and Bank of America Stadium are opening up to voters starting next Thursday. There are 33 early voting locations in Mecklenburg County. That's up significantly from the last presidential election.
Joining us for our weekly check-in is Mecklenburg County elections director Michael Dickerson.
Lisa Worf: Good morning, Mr. Dickerson.
Michael Dickerson: Good morning, Lisa.
Worf: Friday is the last day to register to vote by mail or online. And North Carolina now has 7.2 million voters that are registered. That's up about 450,000 from four years ago at this time. If you're looking to get in under this deadline, what do you have to do?
Dickerson: Well, make certain you take time Friday to go through and complete the application. It's online where you can download it from our site. And complete it, print it and put it in the mail Friday or bring it down to my office Friday by 5 p.m. As long as you get it in the mail Friday, I will put you into the system. If you're hand-delivering, it has to be hand-delivered Friday.
The other thing I want you to do is if you're moving here to Mecklenburg County or from another county, go online and make sure your information is correct. You can go on to the state board website. And if you already have a North Carolina driver's license, you can update your voter registration's address.
Worf: But you can still register to vote at an early voting location in person. You just need a few extra forms, right?
Dickerson: You're exactly right. You can still register to vote if you missed the deadline at one of the early voting sites when we start. But keep in mind, the whole goal at early voting and in this time of pandemic is to limit the interaction with people.
Worf: On to early voting. During the pandemic, safety is obviously a big concern. How is early voting going to look different this year, with that in mind?
Dickerson: Well, keep in mind, the biggest thing you'll see is social distancing. We're following the guidelines of wear a mask, wait six feet and wash your hands type of deal -- the three Ws. All my workers will be wearing masks, face shields. They will also have sneeze guards up at check-ins. They will have plenty of sanitizer. We are spreading all the equipment out six feet from one another.
Worf: And whose responsibility is it to clean the voting site? Is that the elections office or the group who owns and operates the facility?
Dickerson: We will be. We will be cleaning daily and making sure we're actually having somebody in charge of wiping down point-of-contacts at each of these sites so that everybody can stay healthy. And using the disinfectant wipes to be extra clean in this whole process.
Worf: And will you have extra poll workers to enforce social distancing?
Dickerson: We will have extra poll workers this year. We will be spreading people out, keeping yourselves social distanced, outside monitoring the process out there.
Worf: And what happens if there's a COVID outbreak at one of the early voting sites? Do you just close that down and let people know where else they can vote?
Dickerson: That's kind of why we picked the 33 sites. A lot of these sites are close together. You'll see up in the University area, I've got the UNC Charlotte campus, Belk Gymnasium. I've got the old Pier One. And I also have the Mallard Creek High School.
Worf: Now, we've talked about this before: The president has urged people to go and observe at the polls -- which is not something you can do unless you're registered by the party to do that ahead of time. But given that, what's the plan, then, as far as to prevent any potential voter intimidation or people hanging around at the polls that shouldn't be there?
Dickerson: You're right, first off. Correct. The observers at polling locations are appointed by the party committee. They are not just somebody that wanders up and says, "I want to come in and look at and observe the polls." That is not allowed.
The party committees have to go through a process and give me the names. And I have to verify they're registered voters. And I have to verify that with the county and with the party and verify what early voting location they can go to, or precinct, on Election Day that they can go to.
So nobody can just walk in and say, "I want to observe." My site coordinators, my precinct officials, are all trained to keep the sites opened and unobstructed. They can go so far as to call my office or call us. Or they may call the police and have people removed if there is a disturbance or somebody creating problems.
So we will be happy to enforce that. We've already discussed these things with law enforcement here and they've always responded. This is something we've done every year, not just this year. We always have these concerns. And this has been part of the law for the 22 years I've been here.
Worf: There are still these lawsuits pending as far as absentee ballots and some of the new rules. And at this point, you basically are kind of just awaiting to hear guidance about, for those people who did not have a witness signature on their absentee ballot, what to do. So what's that looking like at this point?
Dickerson: You start developing a backlog now of ones that you should send out or need to send out to be cured. Or do we cancel, spoil the ballot and send them out a new ballot to vote?
Our hope is that a judge will rule sooner rather than later so that we can get these out. As soon as we get the order we can we can act immediately and get all these out to be either spoiled or be cured and give the voters still plenty of time.
Worf: That's Mecklenburg County elections director Michael Dickerson. Mr. Dickerson, thank you.
Dickerson: You're welcome. Thanks for having me.
Tell us about your voting experience. Did it go smoothly? Were there any problems? How were the lines? Did you feel safe? If so, why or why not?