North Carolina Election Officials Say Curbside Voting Is A Popular Option
With less than 30 minutes before polls closed Wednesday, Dee Dee walked slowly into the Mount Holly Municipal Complex to vote. Leaning on her cane for support, she took each step carefully. She has neuropathy.
“When you have neuropathy, you hurt with a bad pain in your feet. They’re numb. They’re hot. They’re cold,” she said. “You have problems with cramps. My legs and my back - if I’m on my feet too long - start cramping up then I can’t move at all.”
Nonetheless, it was her mission to vote.
“I gotta vote. I’ve voted all my life,” she said. And the 77-year-old, who didn’t want her full name known, made a point to stress that she has never missed an election.
Dee Dee was prepared to bear the pain and stand in line. But an election worker saw her and informed her about the option of curbside voting.
Dee Dee says she’s lived in Belmont for five years, after moving from Arizona. She didn’t know about curbside voting.
“I didn’t even see that sign. I’m just walking in. I wasn’t paying attention to it, she said. “I love it. That’s unbelievable. I can vote. I’ll vote either way but it will keep me from being in a lot of pain. If I’m on my feet too long I won’t sleep. I will not sleep and my feet will hurt that much.”
Dee Dee waited while her companion left to drive their vehicle to the curbside sign. Dee Dee got in, sat in the front passenger seat, and the election worker started the process.
The General Assembly passed a law in 2001 allowing curbside voting for individuals who can’t enter polling places without physical assistance because of their age or disability.
This year, because of concerns about the pandemic, the state expanded the definition of who can use curbside voting to include people who are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, are at risk, or can’t wear a mask because of medical exemptions.
State election officials say about 144,000 people voted curbside between Oct. 15 and Oct. 28.
“It’s been extremely popular this election cycle,” said Gaston County Elections Director Adam Ragan. “Generally, the longest wait times we’ve seen at polling places have been voters waiting at the curbside area.”
Election workers at the Mount Holly site say three to four vehicles regularly pull up to the curb.
Curbside voters must sign an affidavit confirming that they cannot go inside to vote, that the information on the application is true, and they are eligible to vote in the election.
Ragan explains the step-by-step process for curbside voting this way:
“A worker will greet them, get their name and address, go inside to check their registration, bring their one-stop application and curbside affidavit out for the voter to sign and the worker will go back inside and get their ballot. The voter will vote the ballot, give it to the curbside attendant and they will take it inside and insert the ballot into the tabulator. The curbside attendant will go back out to the car and let the voter know that their ballot was accepted.”
Jessica, who didn’t want to give her full name, waited to use curbside voting. She said she doesn’t have a disability.
“I mean it’s just more convenient," she said. "Why not?”
Asked if she had any COVID-19 concerns, Jessica said, “Not really, I have a mask. I just like this option better.”
Corye Dunn, director of public policy for Disability Rights NC, says advocates have been getting calls from people concerned about long lines for curbside voting.
Dunn says it makes sense that curbside voting is popular.
“We’ve seen a higher than normal turnout for early voting in general,” she said. “I think because more people are eligible for curbside voting and because many people are trying to minimize their potential COVID exposure - more people are taking advantage of the opportunity to vote curbside than would have in the past. People who would have chosen to go in in previous years are choosing to vote curbside as is their right this year.”
WFAE asked Dunn if curbside voting is on the honor system.
“If people are concerned about their exposure to COVID, then curbside is one of the options that our General Assembly has made safe for that,” Dunn said. “If people want to use curbside voting to keep themselves safe, that is actually appropriate and we should re-staff our poll sites so that curbside is staffed adequately to not make those folks wait twice as long as people who are going indoors.”
Ragan, the elections director in Gaston County, says staffing varies according to sites. He says typically there are between two and four election workers doing curbside duty. He says staffing ultimately depends on the time of day and how busy the site is.
Kathye Johnson is 66 years old. She used curbside voting Wednesday evening.
“I’m handicap because of my knee," she said. "I also injured my knee last week so I’m having a hard time walking and standing right now."
She appreciates curbside voting. Otherwise, she said she wouldn’t have been able to vote that evening.
But she doesn’t appreciate people using curbside voting merely for the convenience.
“I think if you’re able, you ought to go in and vote,” she said. “That’s just my opinion. It should be saved for whoever is not able.”
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?