Ask Us: Will COVID-19 cause changes to local 2020 elections?
Editor’s note: Ask Us is a weekly feature published online Mondays and in print on Tuesdays. We’ll seek to answer your questions about items or trends in Rowan County. Have a question? Email it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
SALISBURY — No changes have been made to how voters will cast their ballots, but the state and local election boards are working through options if the COVID-19 outbreak forces alterations to the November presidential election.
A reader asked if the ongoing outbreak of the coronavirus disease had resulted in any changes to voting procedures in November. The short answer, said Rowan County Elections Director Brenda McCubbins, is that there has been some discussion about options, but no final decisions by state or local officials. Particularly, elections officials have talked about a heavier emphasis on absentee by mail voting.
“We have talked about what if, but we don’t have anything in place right now,” McCubbins said.
As of Sunday evening, there were 2,870 cases of COVID-19 in the state and 33 deaths. There were 270 people hospitalized in the state. Meanwhile, there have been 51 cases in Rowan County. Six people were hospitalized Sunday, one has died and 11 people have recovered.
The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, a research center at the University of Washington whose projections have been cited by the White House, projects the virus will peak on Monday, April 13, in North Carolina.
Even so, recommendations made be the North Carolina Board of Elections in a March 26 letter to Gov. Roy Cooper and legislative leaders recommend modifying and simplifying the state’s absentee-by-mail voting process and ensuring county boards are able to process an increased number of mailed ballots. Recommendations also include providing funding to cover costs of any changes, the sterilization and ongoing cleaning of equipment as well as protections for poll workers.
Depending if or when the N.C. General Assembly makes the board makes the recommended changes, they could affect a June 23 second primary in the 11th Congressional District — in which Rowan County voters will note be able to participate. Before the COVID-19 outbreak, that election had been planned for May 12.
“We believe the legislative recommendations released today would go a long way toward ensuring safe, accessible elections in 2020,” State Board of Elections Executive Director Brinson Bell said in a news release. “We look forward to continuing to work with the General Assembly to respond to the unprecedented threat facing our elections system at this time.”
The State Board of Elections also took action to expand Brinson Bell’s ability to take emergency elections action to include a disease epidemic or public health incident.
Locally, McCubbins said, things are quiet at the Rowan County Board of Elections. The next local item on the election calendar is filing for the soil and water commission, which starts on June 8 and ends July 6. Filing for Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education starts July 17 and continues into August.
McCubbins said people who need to visit the Rowan County Board of Elections can still do so, but the department asks that visitors knock on the door and allow a staff member to let them in. Though, she also promoted a new service that allows people with a North Carolina driver’s license or N.C. Division of Motor Vehicles-issued ID card can apply to register to vote or update their information online.
Online voter registration is available by visiting payments.ncdot.gov. There is no fee to apply for voter registration and people do not need to create an account with the processing service used by N.C. DMV — called PayIt.
A news release said county boards of elections will continue to confirm the eligibility of online registrants through standard procedures, including verification mailings, and contact applicants with any questions.
For any questions about local elections, contact the Rowan County board at 704-216-8140 or visit its website at rowancountync.gov/elections.
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