'12 Times' The Absentee Ballots: Mecklenburg Elections Office Preps For Voting In Pandemic

Sep 11, 2020

COVID-19 has made this election season more challenging — not just for voters, but the people in charge of elections. The hiring of poll workers, organizing precincts, mail-in ballot requests and mail and voting — you get the idea.

Credit Denise Cross Photography

It's a lot to deal with under any circumstance, let alone during a pandemic. So through Nov. 3, we're going to periodically check in with Michael Dickerson, the director of elections in Mecklenburg County.

Lisa Worf: Good morning, Mr. Dickerson.

Michael Dickerson: Good morning.

Worf: So, has this election indeed been more challenging than others for you?

Dickerson: Oh, most definitely. Most definitely. These presidentials are always challenging. It's usually volume. This year, though, you're adding the COVID-19 pandemic on top of volume, so that creates a whole new challenge.

Worf: At this point in preparing for the election, what worries you the most in those preparations?

Dickerson: Not really a worry: It's hitting time frames and deadlines — our training deadlines, our recruiting deadlines. The volume is something that we're adjusting to this year for absentee by mail. Not to say that it worries me, but the volume is such that the first time I mailed out ballots four years ago in the presidential election, I think we sent out about 6,000. This year it's about 12 times that -- 70-some thousand that we sent out. So that is huge. What worries me, if I can, is the misinformation or disinformation that you hear out there that I have no control over.

Worf: Over absentee voting?

Michael Dickerson
Credit Mecklenburg County

Dickerson: Over absentee voting or over anything, to tell you the truth. For instance, you hear about the post office. Well, I have no control over the post office. We work very closely with the post office.

I think I've already received a couple thousand back in the mail and in person here, so I know the Postal Service is working, and they've always been one to cooperate with us and make sure that they sweep the post office to make sure they get every absentee ballot that is in the mail stream back to us in a timely fashion.

Worf: How hard is it keeping up with the number of requests you're getting if it's 12 times the amount that you're used to?

Dickerson: The biggest thing is people -- staffing. It is a labor-intensive process. Believe it or not, we literally hand enter each of those. We have to review them and make sure that person is registered, it's correct, the form is accurate, and then we can send that ballot out to them. In order to send the ballot, it is a process where I literally have to stuff the envelope with the exact ballot style.

So, you're looking at doing it just that way so that you can keep it current and up to date. So, as soon as we get through this first 70-some thousand, I think it will go much quicker for us here. But it is a very labor-intensive process. I'm very fortunate. I've been able to get some great temp workers. We always beef up to accommodate our seasonal rush.

Worf: How many staff do you have, then, working on that?

Dickerson: I probably have about 30 to 40 depending on the day and the time of day. It is a tremendous process. We make sure it's right, make sure it goes out correctly and that everybody is monitored is how we're doing it. It's not extremely difficult, but it is extremely labor intensive.

Worf: This week, President Trump was in Winston-Salem, and he was urging supporters to go and be poll watchers. And precincts to have poll watchers, but is this something that's allowed?

Dickerson: We call them observers in North Carolina. They are political observers. They must be appointed by the political parties. They would need to have their name in to me, if it is Election Day, by the Thursday before. You as a citizen are not allowed to go into a polling place unless you plan on voting. That is it. You're not allowed to go inside and just meander around.

For more information on voting in Mecklenburg County, visit the Board of Elections site.

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