CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The stage is set. Early polling places are awaiting the people, and voters will soon raise their voices while also trying to guard against the virus.
But what are the risks while exercising your rights?
"The Board of Elections, state and local, have done a lot of work in coordination with our teams as well as emergency management to prepare for early voting and to make it a safe experience," said Dr. Mandy Cohen, Secretary of North Carolina's Dept. of Health and Human Services.
Some of that work includes expanded early voting sites. In Mecklenburg County, new sites include Spectrum Center, Bojangles Coliseum and Bank of America Stadium.
Voters should bring their masks and expect social distancing, both in line and at the voting machines. There will also be plexiglass dividers, sanitizing stations, and single-use stylus pens for electronic voting.
"We are prepared that we're going to have some large groups that are going to come, and we're going to try to get them through as quickly as possible," said Donna Julian, Spectrum Center's General Manager.
Additionally, county boards of elections must:
- Require election workers and observers to wear a mask when social distancing is or may not be possible, unless they state an exception applies.
- Require election workers to encourage people to wear a mask while they vote or campaign and offer masks to those who are not wearing them.
To monitor the health of elections workers, county boards of elections are required to:
- Immediately separate and send home election workers who have symptoms when they arrive at work or become sick during the day.
- Conduct daily symptom screening of workers before opening the voting place each day.
- Post signage at the main entrance asking people who have a fever and/or a cough not to enter. Signage from the NCDHHS Know your Ws campaign is available to download.
The increased activity begins on the backdrop of rising numbers. Statewide daily new cases and coronavirus-related hospitalizations are now more than 40% higher than their most recent lows.
Despite the increased viral spread across the state, health officials express confidence with voting safety measures.
"I plan to early vote, in-person, myself," said Cohen. "I would equate it to being in... a grocery store."
According to health experts, that would place early voting, in-person, fairly low on the infection risk spectrum.
A state coronavirus briefing is scheduled for Thursday at 3 p.m. Health officials will analyze the latest trends. Gov. Roy Cooper is expected to take part, but there is no word on whether he will share any insight on what might come after Phase 3 expires next Friday.