The 2020 General Election is already underway, with one-stop early voting in North Carolina beginning earlier this week, and thousands of absentee ballots already being mailed out and returned. Many voters will notice that some processes and practices at polling locations have changed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and these changes can seem strange and even overwhelming.
Dr. Andy Jackson is the elections policy analyst at the Civitas Institute, and he joins host Traci DeVette Griggs on this week’s Family Policy Matters radio show and podcast to give the lowdown on some of the voting methods and procedures in North Carolina this year, so citizens in our state can be prepared when they vote between now and Election Day.
“There are a bunch of changes that have been made,” says Dr. Jackson. “One, there are these organizations that are supposed to be set up in every county called Multi-partisan Assistance Teams. They are designed to help people in assisted living facilities be able to register to vote, and to assist them in marking the ballot if needed. Their job has been expanded, so that they can now assist anybody who requires help.”
“When you go in to vote this year,” continues Dr. Jackson, “you’ll notice things are going to look very different. Everybody’s going to be wearing a mask. They’re going to ask you to wear a mask. There’s going to be hand sanitizer everywhere. They’re going to be regularly cleaning the voting locations.”
There has also been a lot of talk in recent months about ballot harvesting and wanting to protect our elections from fraud, especially with the significant increase in absentee ballot requests. Dr. Jackson offers some solutions to prevent this. “The number one thing is, if you can, vote in person,” he says. “Because then you have control of your ballot from the point where you mark it to the point where you put it into the ballot box yourself. […] If you don’t have a choice but to vote absentee, make sure that you control the ballot throughout the process. If at all possible, drop it off at your Board of Elections yourself. If you can’t, try to get a near relative to do that for you. And only as a last resort should you stick that thing in the mail. And never, never hand your ballot off to somebody from a political organization that knocks on your door.”
Tune in to Family Policy Matters this week to hear Dr. Andy Jackson detail the changes in our voting processes this year, and be sure to get out and vote!
TRACI GRIGGS: Thanks for joining us this week for Family Policy Matters. As we approach the 2020 elections, once again North Carolina finds itself an important battleground for the presidency and the U.S. Senate. But having such a vital election during a pandemic means some things may look quite a bit different this year.
To ensure we’re fully informed on what to expect, we’ve invited Dr. Andy Jackson to give us the lowdown on this ever-changing landscape. Dr. Jackson is the elections policy analyst at the Civitas Institute. He has a Ph.D. in political science and has taught political science in North Carolina and internationally.
Dr. Andy Jackson, welcome to Family Policy Matters.
DR. ANDY JACKSON: Thanks for having me.
TRACI GRIGGS: North Carolinians have a number of different methods to vote. What are those?
DR. ANDY JACKSON: Well, we have three different ways that you can vote in North Carolina, and I’ll just go over them in the order that you can do them. Right now, North Carolinians are voting by mail. There’s an online portal at the North Carolina State Board of Elections homepage where you could request an absentee ballot. Those have to be postmarked by November 3rd. We also have early voting, which is starting this week, and it’s going to go from October 9th until Saturday, October 31st. On those days, you can actually register to vote and vote on the same day. So, if you’re not registered in North Carolina yet, you can do that then. And then of course, there’s election day, and on election day the polls are going to be open from 6:30 AM until 7:30 PM. And that is on Tuesday, November 3rd.
TRACI GRIGGS: Right. And I understand regarding the requesting of absentee ballots that you can request up until very late in the game, but most people are suggesting you get that done early, right?
DR. ANDY JACKSON: Yes. The deadline for your county Board of Elections receiving an absentee ballot request is October 27th. But realistically, if you plan to vote by mail, I highly recommend that you do it certainly by the first half of October. You never know with the mail; it might take longer than expected. And currently under North Carolina law, they have to receive it, even if you mail it and get a postmark on election day. It has to be received by three days after under current law. So, I highly recommend that if you’re going to vote by mail, do it, send it in at least a week before election day.
TRACI GRIGGS: Right. And if people still have concerns, they can take those absentee ballots to certain drop off points, right?
DR. ANDY JACKSON: Right now, you can drop that off at your county Board of Elections office. You are legally supposed to sign that in, so you can’t just like drop it on the counter or put it in a little box outside. You’re supposed to sign your name, so that they can verify that the voter is actually the person sending in the ballot. Only the voter or a close relative can take a ballot. During early voting, you can also drop it off at an early voting location. There are going to be several of those in most counties. One thing you cannot do is drop off an absentee ballot at your polling place. If you’re going to go to a polling place, you have to actually vote at the polling place. But yes, there are several ways you can transmit that ballot.
TRACI GRIGGS: Lots of good information, thank you. Let’s talk about 2020 because what a crazy year, and of course we’ve got a pandemic going on. And in light of that, the North Carolina Legislature and the Board of Elections have made some changes to the election process. Tell us about those.
DR. ANDY JACKSON: There are a bunch of changes that have been made. One, there are these organizations that are supposed to be set up in every county called Multi-partisan Assistance Teams. They are designed to help people in assisted living facilities be able to register to vote, and to assist them in marking the ballot if needed. Their job has been expanded, so that they can now assist anybody who requires help. So, if you need some assistance requesting a ballot or getting your ballot in, you can call your county Board of Elections, and they’ll help you. Also, the witness requirement in North Carolina for absentee ballots has been reduced from two witnesses down to one for this year only. And also, the state of North Carolina and the federal government have given combined $28 million to the state Board of Elections and county Boards of Elections in order to implement procedures, so that people can vote safely.
When you go in to vote this year, you’ll notice things are going to look very different. Everybody’s going to be wearing a mask. They’re going to ask you to wear a mask. If you refuse, they can’t tell you that you can’t vote, but be polite if they ask you to put it on, put it on. There’s going to be hand sanitizer everywhere. They’re going to be regularly cleaning the voting locations. You know, all of that extra work requires money, and so, the county and state Board of Elections have got that. And also, there’s going to be higher pay for election workers to try and encourage more people to come out and work the poll.
TRACI GRIGGS: All right. Regarding all of those changes for the polls on election day, early on we heard there might be some problems with finding enough polling workers. Are you envisioning that we’re going to have enough people to work those polls?
DR. ANDY JACKSON: We probably are. I mean, the state Board of Elections and the counties have been working hard. There might be some precincts; it’s a little early to tell. We should know very soon, how many, if any, that might have to be closed, and those voters will vote at another precinct if there’s not enough workers to work that location. Right now at the moment, it seems like we’re good to go for most of the state.
TRACI GRIGGS: And then you also mentioned the Multi-partisan Assistance Teams, and you said they were supposed to be set up in every county. Does that mean that there are some issues with that?
DR. ANDY JACKSON: Well, I have heard, and I haven’t had a chance to verify this, but I have heard there are about a dozen counties, your more rural counties that have smaller populations, that don’t have a fully setup Multi-partisan Assistance Team. This is one of the things that I would encourage folks, if you have some time and you can do this, to contact your county Board of Elections and volunteer to serve on those teams. It’s a great community service to help your fellow citizens vote.
TRACI GRIGGS: We’ve mentioned already a few of the perceived threats possibly to the integrity of North Carolina elections. What do you consider to be the greatest threats?
DR. ANDY JACKSON: Well, right now I’d still say it’s the ongoing threat of people attempting to harvest absentee ballots. Ballot harvesting is when you have organized political groups going around and collecting people’s absentee ballots ostensibly just to deliver them for them. Of course, folks are vulnerable at that point of having their ballot envelope steamed open and potentially altered, potentially destroyed. And so, that’s still a danger. Now, the North Carolina General Assembly passed the law last year, and this was a big bipartisan bill to help reform the absentee ballot process. To make it more difficult to harvest ballots, they did things that make it so that these political groups couldn’t do the ballot requests on behalf of citizens and similar items. But considering the large numbers of absentee ballot requests we’re looking at this year, this produces kind of a larger field from which to try to harvest ballots. So, that is still the biggest danger that we have. There are some other potential problems, but as far as like affecting dozens, hundreds, maybe thousands of ballots, it would be the ballot harvesting.
TRACI GRIGGS: Well, let’s talk about Voter ID. Voters in North Carolina approved a constitutional amendment requiring Voter ID in 2018, but that amendment was struck down by the courts earlier this year. However, a new ruling was issued regarding that amendment. So, tell us what the current status of Voter ID is in North Carolina.
DR. ANDY JACKSON: Well, it’s still off. So even though Voter ID in that particular case is back, there are actually two other injunctions, one at the state level and one at the federal level against Voter ID. So, we’re not going to see Voter ID this year. When you go and vote in November or at one of your early voting locations, you’re not going to have to show an ID.
TRACI GRIGGS: All right. So since the 2016 election and the 2018 midterms, what trends have we seen here in North Carolina, as far as voter registration is concerned? And would you venture to draw any conclusions about how those trends might affect the 2020 elections?
DR. ANDY JACKSON: Since 2016, there’s been a net gain, or I should say since the 2016 election, there’s been a net gain of 85,000 Republicans and a little over or a little under 337,000 unaffiliated voters. However, there’s been a net decline of 159,000 Democrats. So, we have, you know, a 100, almost 160,000, fewer Democrats on the voter rolls than we did on November 8, 2016. Now a lot of those folks are people that had been taken off during what we call list maintenance, sometimes called purging. And so, by definition, those are folks that hadn’t voted in several years. So, the impact of that Democratic decline, it might not be as large as it seems. However, that relative gain in Republicans means that in some of the closer elections statewide or in some of the counties or districts in the state, the Republicans have a slight advantage now compared to what they had four years ago.
TRACI GRIGGS: Let’s talk about polling. So, are we going to see more of the spillover of this just kind of unpredictable year, do you think in regarding our elections and polling this year?
DR. ANDY JACKSON: It’s possible. As they say, polling is just a snapshot. So, when you see a poll right now, that just tells you about things right now. There are of course problems; there are statistical issues; we have the margin of error. So, you know, things could be plus or minus three percent either way for both candidates. So, you kind of have to think about those numbers as a range. For example, if you have polls coming out the same day, and a candidate is 50 percent in one poll and 41 percent in the other poll, it doesn’t really mean that one is right, and the other one’s wrong. It just means that there’s variation that you have to deal with. Now, they tend to get a little more accurate when you get closer to election day, but you don’t want to put too much stock in the polls themselves. They are signs. If a lot of polls have one candidate consistently ahead, well, that candidate is probably ahead, but the exact amount of that margin between the candidates, you know, might vary.
TRACI GRIGGS: Alright. And one final opportunity for you to give us some pointers on protecting our votes and our ballots. Anything else you want to add?
DR. ANDY JACKSON: Well, the number one thing is if you can vote in person. I actually had a chance to observe the procedures for election day. I went out and covered out in Western North Carolina the second primary for the 11th district congressional race that they had on June 23rd. I had a chance to see how they’re going to conduct with the masks, with the cleanings, and you can vote safely in person. Dr. Fauci said that as well, you can safely vote in person. So, I would say if you can, vote in person because you have control of your ballot from the point where you mark it to the point where you put it into the ballot box yourself. Same thing with early voting, that’s a fine thing. If you have to, if you don’t have a choice but to vote absentee, make sure that you control the ballot throughout the process. As you mentioned before, if at all possible, drop it off at your Board of Elections yourself. If you can’t, try to get a near relative to do that for you. And only as a last resort, stick that thing in the mail. And never, never hand your ballot off to somebody from a political organization that knocks on your door.
TRACI GRIGGS: Very good. Well, we’re just about out of time for this week, but before we go, Dr. Jackson, where can our listeners go to learn more about how to vote here in North Carolina and to follow your work?
DR. ANDY JACKSON: I actually highly recommend the state Board of Elections webpage. They have links to where you can request an absentee ballot. They also have lots of information you can find to look up your polling place. They have this thing called the voter lookup tool. I actually used it this morning to print off my sample ballot, so that I can go ahead and figure out who I’m going to vote for in some of these down ballot races that I haven’t had a chance to look at yet. So, that’s a really good tool. And if you want to follow my work, I and my colleagues are at our webpage, which is nccivitas.org.
TRACI GRIGGS: Right. And we also want to remind our listeners that the North Carolina Family Policy Council’s nonpartisan 2020 Voter Guide is available on our website at NCFamilyVoter.com. You can download a copy of the entire Voter Guide there, get a personalized Voter Guide based on your address, and also place orders for hard copies of the Voter Guide to distribute to your family, friends, neighbors, church, and other community organizations.
Dr. Andy Jackson with Civitas, thank you so much for being with us on Family Policy Matters.
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