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The 2022 midterm elections are the first of the Biden era. They're also the first since the 2020 census, which means there are new congressional districts. There are U.S. Senate races in the Carolinas as well, along with many state and local races.

NC election teams help nursing home residents cast mail in ballots

A resident at Charlotte's Southminster retirement community on Park Road speaks with Mecklenburg County elections worker Cindy Brinkley (right) on Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2022.
Nick de la Canal
A resident at Charlotte's Southminster retirement community on Park Road speaks with Mecklenburg County elections worker Cindy Brinkley (right) on Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2022.

Early, in-person voting doesn't start until Oct. 20 in North Carolina, but voting is already underway at many nursing homes and assisted care facilities around the state.

The facilities house many older and disabled residents who vote by mail, and teams of election workers have been visiting those facilities in recent weeks to help residents request and fill out their ballots ahead of Election Day.

By law, each of North Carolina's 100 counties is required to assemble a bipartisan team of volunteers, known as a multipartisan assistance team (MAT), who visit nursing homes, assisted care facilities and anyone who asks for help requesting or filling out an absentee ballot.

Mecklenburg County has a team of six volunteers who've visited more than 30 facilities around the county this year — which is about average at this time in a midterm election, according to a spokesperson for the Mecklenburg County Board of Elections.

On a recent Tuesday, four MAT volunteers for Mecklenburg County — two Republicans and two Democrats — made a trip to the Southminster retirement community, where about a dozen residents had filed into a small room to wait for the election workers.

Some residents needed help requesting absentee ballots. Others needed to change their voting address. One woman brought along her absentee ballot and asked for a volunteer to help explain each section of the ballot as she filled it out.

In North Carolina, anyone can vote by mail, but must first submit an absentee ballot request through the mail or through the state's website. Once they receive their ballot in the mail, voters will need two witnesses or one notary public to sign the ballot for it to be valid.

In 2020, North Carolina became one of two states to ban staff at nursing homes and assisted care facilities from helping residents fill out their ballots, but a U.S. District judge struck down that rule in July 2022, saying disabled voters may seek assistance from anyone they choose.

Nursing home and assisted care facility staff are still not allowed to sign a voter's ballot as a witness, however.

Volunteer Vickie Koch has been on the Mecklenburg County MAT since 2017, and now helps lead the team. She says many of the volunteers, including herself, are retirees who want to help older and disabled people stay civically engaged.

Oftentimes, MAT volunteers will act as witnesses for older and disabled residents.

"I do it because I think everybody has the right to vote," Koch said. "[The residents] can't get out and get to the polls, and doing an absentee ballot is the easiest way of doing it."

While some counties had trouble recruiting MAT volunteers for the 2020 election, state officials say all North Carolina counties have assembled teams for the 2022 midterms, and the teams are busy helping older and disabled residents cast their ballots ahead of the election — now one month away.

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Nick de la Canal is the host of Weekend Edition on Saturday/Sunday mornings, and a reporter covering breaking news, arts and culture, and general assignment stories. His work frequently appears on air and online. Periodically, he tweets: @nickdelacanal