NC Election Officials Cope in Hurricane Florence’s Aftermath

[Image via theadvocate]

Flood waters are slowly receding in the parts of North Carolina hardest hit by Hurricane Florence, leaving election officials in some counties to scrambling to cope with Election Day just six weeks away. WHQR has more:

Hurricane Florence disrupted daily operations for local governments in North Carolina, including county boards of elections. It’s the second time in two years that voting officials have had to improvise just weeks before a General Election.

In Craven County, it’s deja vu for Director of Elections Meloni Wray. She remembers when Hurricane Matthew hit her office in New Bern two years ago, less than a month before a major election.

“The only difference is we didn’t actually have our ballots here in-house,” Wray said.

The state Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement drafted this year’s ballots later than usual because of multiple lawsuits against four of this year’s six proposed constitutional amendments. It turns out that delay helped avoid what could have been a lot of soggy ballots.

“And we are thankful we thought to move all of our election equipment out the Tuesday before the storm hit, because where we store our equipment was flooded and on the national news of it flooding,” she said. “Ironically, the vendor that prints the majority of the ballots for North Carolina is in New Bern.”

Kim Strach, executive director of the state Board of Elections, says the vendor worked overtime, and shipped some of the ballots to Raleigh for safekeeping. The board is also helping a handful of counties mail absentee ballots to active military overseas. That deadline [was] this weekend. [Longer story here – DMCj]

The Board extended the voter registration deadline for 36 counties when Hurricane Matthew hit in 2016. Strach says she still hasn’t decided whether to do that this year.

“It’s sort of a fluid event,” Strach said. “We still do not know how long it’s going to take for some of these waters to recede, so if it comes to a point where we believe that people are going to be impacted by that, that’s a decision we will have to make.”

The State Board is also reaching out to evacuation shelters with absentee ballot requests for voters displaced by the storm – and could contemplate postponing the state’s registration deadline a well, reports Spectrum News:

“All you need to do is send in an absentee ballot request form to your County Board of Elections or the State Board,” Patrick Gannon of the North Carolina State Board of Elections and Ethics said. “And you’ll be sent an absentee ballot.”

Gannon says the board is working to make sure every absentee ballot request is answered, and delivered to where it needs to go.

“We’ve sent roughly 70 packages to 70 shelters that include absentee ballot request forms,” Gannon said. “They include voter registration applications. They include those two documents in English and Spanish and they include a return envelope, so the shelter managers can return any forms that they collect to our office at the State Board…”

Gannon says the voting registration deadline could be pushed back, just as it was in the wake of Hurricane Matthew. Early voting begins on Oct. 17. Election Day is Nov. 6.

No matter what happens, Craven County’s Wray says they’ll be ready:

Rain, shine or persistent flooding, Wray says the 69,000 registered voters in Craven County will have a place to go when early voting starts October 17th, and on Election Day November 6th.

“We’re used to having deadlines change on us at the last minute,” Wray said. “And I’m thankful in Craven County, we’re ready. We’ll do what we need to do. If we have to set up alternate places, we’ll get it done somehow.”

It’s been a year for Tarheel State election officials I wouldn’t wish on anyone – and yet I have immense confidence that the work will still get done. Thanks to all the election officials and others in North Carolina for all you do … on behalf of your friends and colleagues in the election community nationwide I hope you will  be well and get dry  – and we’ll stay tuned!

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