In an historic first, voters in Columbus County will be able to vote on one Sunday during the early polls.
Carla Strickland of the Board of Elections said the decision was handed down Monday from the state BoE. In July, the local board had a split vote on expanding Saturday voting hours in October, or allowing Sunday voting in addition to the required Saturday hours. They passed the decision up the ladder to Raleigh, and the state board handed down its ruling Monday.
“This will be first for us,” Strickland said.
Election Day is Nov. 3. Early polls will be open starting Oct. 15 at Chadbourn, Fair Bluff, Tabor City, the Ransom Center, and Lake Waccamaw, as well as the central Board of Elections office in Whiteville. Hours at the satellite one stop polls are 8 a.m. – 7:30 p.m. weekdays, except at the Elections office, which is open 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Weekend hours for the satellites will be 8 a.m. until 6 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 17 and Sunday, Oct. 25, and 8 a.m. until 3 p.m. on Sat. Oct. 31. The Elections office will also be open 8-3 on Oct. 31, Strickland said.
The surge in absentee requests is in part due to concerns over voting in person due to COVID-19, Strickland said. Voters are eager to cast a ballot due to the presidential election, but at the same time, they care concerned over possible exposure to the virus if they vote in person.
“We have a protocol in place to protect people from possible exposure,” she said. “We’ll have masks, hand sanitizer, shields, and other personal protective equipment. We’re doing everything we can to keep things sanitary, but if people want to vote by mail, that is their right.”
Strickland said the elections staff is cautioning people not to send in more than one absentee by mail request, although both political parties and multiple candidates have sent out ballot requests by bulk mail.
“Some of the direct mail companies are using old lists,” she said. “That means people who have moved, are deceased or are no longer on the voting roles may have absentee requests sent to their last address of record. We have to carefully check every single request, and make sure there are no duplicates.
“We do not mail out absentee ballot forms until Oct. 9,” Strickland said. “Some voters may think that because they haven’t received a ballot in the mail, their request wasn’t received, but nobody has gotten one yet.”
As of Monday, Strickland said, the county has received more than 1,000 absentee ballot requests. By contrast, the previous record was 617.
“We are vetting dozens of them every day,” she said, comparing requests to the voter rolls and making sure the requesting person is eligible to vote in Columbus County.
Strickland said this year’s presidential, national and state elections are “volatile,” with passionate workers on both sides of the party fence. At the same time, she said, her office is non-partisan and apolitical.
“We are going to do everything to make sure every single person gets to cast a ballot in the way they wish to do so,” she said. “It is not our job to influence elections. It’s our job to make sure they run as smoothly as possible.”