The Transylvania Times -

Early Voting Begins Today – Transylvania County, NC

 

Last updated 10/14/2020 at 4:14pm

Early voting begins today at the old Kmart building (above) in Brevard and at the Rosman Town Hall. (Times photos by Matt McGregor)

With early voting set to begin today, the voting machines used in the elections in Transylvania County are checked for precision and security, according to the county's director of the Board of Elections, Jeff Storey.

"We do a logic and accuracy testing prior to each election," Storey said. "We have a predetermined script, and we process those through the express-vote ballot marking devices and DS200 tabulators, and make sure that they tabulate correctly. That's a process that takes place using a bipartisan team."

He said the machines are offline and are never on a network that could be infiltrated. The logic and accuracy test is performed on every machine, he said, such as the ballot marking device and the tabulator. The "test votes" are then cleared, and the machines get sealed until early voting begins.

"Those seals are recorded by a bipartisan team of testers and verified by the early voting workers before first use," Storey said. "Each night during early voting they will record the public count on the tabulator machines, and verify and reconcile those with the applications that the voters have signed. The machines are sealed and secured at the end of each day. The next morning they'll break those seals to verify the public count is still the same."

For example, he said, if 1,000 people come through on day one, then there should be a public count of 1,000 between those two machines.

"The team has a log that is checked, and both parties sign off on it agreeing that, yes, this was the count when we left and this was the count when we came in this morning," he said.

There are three vendors in North Carolina for voting machines, which include the tabulators, and Transylvania County opted to use the ES&S (Election Systems & Software), the company that manufactures the equipment and which was approved through the State Board of Elections.

Coding for the ballot marking devices and tabulators are on a flash drive, with a central tabulator in the office at the Transylvania County Board of Elections from where the coding is done.

The vendor sends a CD with the coding for each election, which is read into a stand-alone machine that gets dispersed out to all of the voting equipment.

"That's when we do our logic and accuracy testing, certifying that it's safe, and seal those up until election time," Storey said. "After the election, we also have the sample audit, where the state will randomly select two precincts. Then we do a hand-to-eye count on those two precincts, and verify once again that the machine is tabulating correctly."

The trend in the past has been continual growth in early voting, he said, though due to COVID-19 this year's trend is "unknown," he said.

"In 2016, we had almost 12,000 do early voting, which was higher than our Election Day numbers," Storey said. "Also, by comparison, we only had 754 ballots for 2016 for absentee by mail, and now we've got over 4,800 requests for this election. We've had about 2,500 that have been returned, so far."

Absentee ballots can be mailed or dropped off at the Election Center or early voting sites.

There is no circumstance in which an absentee ballot is not approved without the voter being informed, Storey said.

"The election term we use is 'spoiled,'" he said. "If there is a deficiency with the return envelope or the voter informs us they've made a mistake, they can request another ballot, and we would spoil the old ballot. At each board meeting, the board reviews absentee ballots that have been received. Any approved ballot envelope, where a deficiency is discovered after opening them, can be spoiled, the voter contacted, and reissued."

While in some counties in other states, such as in Luzerne County in Pennsylvania, where some military ballots had been discovered by authorities in a dumpster, Storey said nothing like that has been reported in Transylvania County.

Similarly, there have been no reports of "voter intimidation."

"We've generally had no issues with that," he said.

Transylvania County Sheriff David Mahoney said there are several state and federal laws that exist to ensure that voters don't have to experience voter intimidation.

"The Sheriff's Office has been in contact with the local elections director, as well as the state elections director to discuss any concerns about voter intimidation," Mahoney said. "Understanding the protections of free speech, we will assist the chief judge of each precinct if they feel someone is in violation of election law or if conduct becomes disorderly. I am not aware of any cases of voter intimidation in the past several years. I believe residents of our county will largely be cordial and respect differences of opinion. After all, spirited debates and free elections are part of what makes our form of government so amazing."

Brevard Police Chief Phil Harris said, to his knowledge, there has not been an allegation of voter intimidation "that amounted to a violation."

"Elections in Transylvania County have been civil and well within the law," Harris said. "Coercion and intimidation of voters is strictly prohibited. If such an allegation is made, the BPD will investigate each such allegation and determine if there are any violations of elections law or criminal law. Both the Sheriff's Office and BPD have worked with the Elections Office to assure a smooth voting experience for all citizens. We anticipate another stellar year."

The polling sites have what are called "observers," which are people designated from each party to observe the voting sites to check for voter disenfranchisement, and to make sure proper procedures are followed, Storey said.

"We have a list from each party in terms of who is allowed into the polling site," Storey said. "Any member of the public can be outside the 50-foot buffer zone that begins at the entrance, but in terms of inside the polling location the only ones authorized are the observers on the list that the party chair submits to us, the staff, and the voters."

In August, the Board of Elections passed a resolution to temporarily move some precincts for social distancing measures due to COVID-19. The Kmart building, which will be used for early voting, will also be used on Election Day, Nov. 3, for both the Brevard #3 and #4 precinct voters.

Rosman Town Hall will also host the East Fork and Rosman Eastatoe precincts on Election Day.

The three methods of voting are absentee by mail, early voting that will have the ExpressVote ballot marking devices that were tested and are also ADA (American Disabilities Association) compliant, and then, there is voting on Election Day, which uses full-sized paper ballots and the marking of the ovals next to the candidate's name, which then get inserted into the tabulator.

"On Election Day, there is only going to be one ExpressVote per precinct, and that's for ADA compliancy," Storey said.

Early voting is from Oct. 15 to Oct. 31, from 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. on weekdays, and then the first two Saturdays are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., and the last Saturday is 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Election Day voting is from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.

"When a voter comes in all they need to do is state their name and address," Storey said. "There is no photo ID for this election. They don't have to bring a registration card or anything like that. They just need to come in and state their name and address at the check in station and sign an authorization to vote form attesting to their identity."

On Election Day, when paper ballots are used, voters will get their own pen.

There will also be curbside voting, in which the voter rings a bell outside to alert staff.

"A curbside attendant will go outside and get their name and address, give them an oath in which they state they are physically unable to come into the building, and then we provide a paper ballot out in their car," Storey said. "Normally, we have a clipboard that has a privacy sleeve, but due to COVID, we are using manila folders. Once that folder is wrapped around the ballot, the curbside attendant will return it to the tabulator, while the voter waits outside until the worker confirms it has been cast. Once the ballot is cast, they'll notify the voter, discard the manila folder and get a new one for the next voter."

The ExpressVote machine will be used for voting. One can use a Q-Tip instead of a stylus, so that the same stylus is not used again. On Election Day, one ExpressVote machine per precinct will be used for ADA compliancy.

There will be morning and afternoon shifts of 50 early-voting staff between Rosman and the Kmart building, Storey said, with 10 per shift at Rosman and 15 per shift at Kmart.

COVID-19 Precautions

"We will have PPE (personal protective equipment) supplies provided for the workers. All of them will be wearing masks," he said. "We will have plexi-glass shields in front of the check-in stations between the voter and the worker, and though the voters are not required to wear masks, we will have masks available and encourage them to wear it. We also will have gloves for the workers and hand sanitizer available. We will have additional precinct workers for this election just for sanitizing, and there will be social distancing markers in place, as well."

 
 

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