By Dave Russell
Jackson County Board of Elections Director Lisa Lovedahl last Thursday spoke to the Sylva town board. It’s an election year like no other, but Lovedahl and her crew are ready, she said.
One new twist is the number of voters using the new online absentee ballot portal this year.
“We’re getting about 100 (requests) per day,” she said. “Once we get the request, we process it to make sure that the voter is registered to vote, that the form is complete. If it is not, we get in touch with the voter so they can complete it.”
For requests not made through the portal, an absentee request form will only be accepted if returned to the county board by the voter, the voter’s near relative (spouse, brother, sister, parent, grandparent, child, grandchild, mother-in-law, father-in-law, daughter-in-law, son-in-law, stepparent or stepchild) legal guardian or Multipartisan Assistance Team.
A MAT is a group appointed by local county boards of election to provide assistance with mail-in absentee voting to voters living at facilities such as nursing homes.
The request form must be signed and dated.
“Then we create absentee packages,” Lovedahl said. “That started on Sept. 4, and we mailed out 1,895 absentee ballots.”
For the election of 2018, the board only sent out 269, she said.
“Right now, we are at 2,185 that we have already mailed out, and we will keep mailing those out until Oct. 27,” she said. “Once the voter gets the absentee package, they vote and complete the envelope. They need to have one witness present to sign the ballot and that has changed this year. It used to be two.”
They can be returned by mail, dropped off at the Board of Elections at the Skyland Service Center, or turned in at a One-Stop site.
One-Stop voting begins Oct. 15 and goes through Oct. 31.
“What’s new this year, is in addition to them being able to come as they have before, inside the enclosures, we’re going to have absentee return centers at all the One-Stop sites,” she said.
Those voters would not have to stand in line, she said.
Absentee ballots will be examined and scanned at a series of Board of Elections meetings, but totals will not be released until after the polls close at 7:30 p.m. on Election Day, Nov. 3, she said. Voting results from One-Stop sites will also be released at that time.
The meetings are public and they will be live for the first time, either through Facebook or the board website, Lovedahl said.
Ballots are already matched up to voters and should not be signed, she said.
Once scanned, the ballots will be stored securely in a safe.
“You cannot vote twice in North Carolina,” she said. “We have safeguards in place.”
When ballots are returned to the Board of Elections, they are entered into a system that “freezes” that vote, she said.
The primary runoff election of June 23 was a blueprint for how in-person voting will be conducted, Lovedahl said.
In-person voting on Election Day runs from 6:30 a.m. until 7:30 p.m.
“I would not recommend waiting until Election Day,” she said. “Vote early. That way you know that there is a lot of time that you can safely and quickly get in to vote.”
The board has taken extensive safety measures in the era of COVID-19, she said.
“The workers will have personal protection equipment,” Lovedahl said. “They will have masks, they will have gloves, they will have face shields. They will even have gowns. We have plenty of hand sanitizer for the workers and voters.”
Masks will be available for voters who do not have one.
“There will be limited contact between the voters and the workers,” she said. “We’re not going to re-use pens. You’re going to be able to take your pen with you.”
Voting machines will be sanitized after each voter.
Lovedahl could not think of a case of voter fraud in the county.
“There have been times when somebody tried to vote twice, but we’ve always caught them, and most of the time it was just somebody who due to a medical condition forgot that they voted One-Stop and then they came and voted on Election Day again,” she said. “It wasn’t their intent to break the law.”
More volunteers are needed for the polls, both One-Stop and on Election Day, she said.
Anyone interested should visit the website https://jcncelections.org.