As the novel coronavirus continues to disrupt daily life, East Carolina University and local officials look ahead to the elections in November and hope that they will be able to go off without issue.
Tony McQueen, the deputy director for the Pitt County Board of Elections, said that the Pitt County Board of Elections will follow all the directions provided by the state Board of Elections and minimize their own independent action.
“There’s been talk of statewide mail-in voting but our legislature would have to decide that, that’s not something we have control over,” McQueen said.
As of right now, McQueen said that the board of elections will plan on the November elections going off as per usually. He said that the state’s board of elections has been brainstorming ways to do the voting if the coronavirus is still prevalent come November, but there are no concrete plans other than to host elections as they normally would.
Absentee ballots begin being mailed the first week of September but McQueen said that it is difficult for the Board of Elections to prepare by doing anything else. However, he doesn’t believe that the coronavirus will impact the election.
“I’ve been here since 2003, and every presidential I’ve been in it’s gone more and more and more. We might have more mail-out ballots if it’s still bad, we might have more people requesting mail-in ballots but I don’t think it’ll affect the numbers,” McQueen said.
Alex Dennis, an assistant director with ECU’s Center for Leadership and Civic Engagement (CLCE), said that his office has tried to engage students to be politically active through primarily social media outreach.
Dennis said that the CLCE has worked to make sure that the polling site for ECU is accessible for students, similarly to how it was located in the Main Campus Student Center during the Spring 2020 semester.
“That’s definitely one of our struggles right now, is planning for us to be back in August, but really right now you just don’t know. So we are planning for (the election), and there is a summer, but I think that the university is going to have to make a decision about what’s going to happen for Fall sooner rather than later,” Dennis said.
Dennis said that the Pitt County Board of Elections has already talked about expansion efforts for early voting, and he brought up that North Carolinians are able to get mail-in ballots without a reason, which would allow for people to vote without the ability to go to an actual polling station.
It’s important that students continue to keep track of the coronavirus situation, Dennis said. He said that things will constantly shift in the state, like how the DMV now allows online voter registration.
“Use social media to follow the state Board of Elections to get information from them on how this is impacting the state, following your elected representatives on social media is also an important way to keep up to date. There are also tons of apps out there, there’s Ballotpedia to see what will be on the ballot so you can start to get headway on what’s happening in 2020,” Dennis said.
Peter Francia, an ECU professor of political science and the director for the ECU Center for Survey Research, gave background on when America faced a similar pandemic during the 1920 presidential election with influenza virus.
Depending on where Americans were located, Francia said it would change how voting operated, with some precincts having no voting at all due to a lack of people either willing or able to vote.
Although, in some places voter participation was encouraged by the government while they implemented safety precautions, such as masks for the workers or voters being told to keep a safe distance from each other.
“Voter turnout, nonetheless, was very low in 1918 for a midterm election. Worst of all, infections increased after the election,” Francia said.
If the number of coronavirus cases in the United States does not drop substantially but November, Francia said he believes that there will be an increase in the number of absentee ballots being used this year. Some states, such as Hawaii, have already chosen to make their voting only through mail.