One-stop, early voting, when eligible people can register to vote and then vote at the same time and place, starts Thursday and continues through Oct. 31 in Wilkes County and across the state.

In Wilkes County, early voting is available Thursday to Oct. 31 from:

• 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. on weekdays;

• 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 17, and Saturday, Oct. 24

• 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 31.

Two one-stop, early sites

Unlike Election Day (Nov. 3), when registered voters must vote at their assigned precincts, there are two designated sites for one-stop, early voting in Wilkes. Larger counties have more sites.

The two sites in Wilkes are the Wilkesboro Civic Center at 1241 School Street in Wilkesboro and the Edwin H. McGee Natural Resources Center at 928 Fairplains Road, North Wilkesboro. Directional signs will be up on School Street and Fairplains Road.

To reach the Wilkesboro Civic Center, turn onto School Street from N.C. 268 West (River Street) and look for it on the left after about a half mile. It’s just before Wilkesboro Elementary School and a short distance beyond the N.C. Driver’s License Examiner office.

The Edwin H. McGee Natural Resources Center can be reached from N.C. 268 East or N.C. 18 North. From N.C. 18 North, turn east onto Fairplains Road a little less than a mile and the McGee Center will be on the right.

To reach the McGee Center from N.C. 268 East, turn north on Fairplains Road just west of Blevins Building Supply and the McGee Center will be on the left after about a mile and a half.

COVID-19 precautions

Voters will have a much different experience than normal at one-stop, early voting sites this year due to COVID-19-related precautions.

Wilkes Board of Elections Director Kim Caudill said masks aren’t mandatory for people coming to vote, but masks, as well as hand sanitizer, will be available at the two sites. Clear plastic screens will be up in certain places.

Floors will be marked to show voters where to stand to maintain social distancing and election staff will be on hand to assist with this. Voters will be encouraged to not congregate inside the two voting places before and after they cast ballots.

Caudill said each voter will receive a different pen for marking ballots, so tens of thousands were ordered. Federal CARES Act funds were used to purchase pens, as well as personal protection equipment of election site workers and voters.

She said the two one-stop, early voting sites will be staffed by about 10-12 people apiece at any given time, which is more than double what is normal, to help maintain COVID-19 precautions. Caudill said finding enough people to work has been a challenge. About 95 were hired this year for the different shifts.

Pay was increased by $2 to $12 per hour, with site coordinators getting $14 per hour. This was also funded by the CARES Act.

Registering at a one-stop site

People needing to register to vote at a one-stop, early site must attest to their eligibility by completing and signing an N.C. Registration Application at the site.

They also must provide proof of where they live by showing any of the following documents with their current name and address:

• North Carolina driver’s license;

•. Any government agency-issued photo ID, provided that the card includes the voter’s current name and address;

• a copy of a current utility bill, bank statement, government check, paycheck, or other government document showing the voter’s name and address;

• a current college/university photo identification card paired with proof of campus habitation.

The registrant’s ballot will be counted unless the county board of elections determines that he or she is not qualified to vote that ballot. Within two business days of the person’s registration, the county board of elections will verify the registrant’s driver’s license or Social Security number, update the voter registration database, search for possible duplicate registrations, and begin to verify the registrant’s address by mail.

People who aren’t sure if they’re registered to vote can call the Wilkes Board of Elections office at 336-651-7339 or go the State Board of Elections website at vt.ncsbe.gov/RegLkup/.

North Carolina voters can choose to affiliate with one of five political parties — Constitution, Democrat, Green, Libertarian and Republican — or as “unaffiliated,” meaning no party at all. In a general election like the one underway, voters can choose any candidate they like regardless of party affiliation.

Absentee ballot controversy

As of Tuesday morning, nearly 2,500 Wilkes voters had already cast their ballots through absentee mail-in ballots.

Caudill said the Wilkes Board of Elections is holding about 100 of these absentee ballots, all with issues such as not being properly signed or sealed, as the Wilkes board and county boards of elections across the state await further directions from the State Board of Elections on whether they should be invalidated or voters who cast them should be allowed to fix them.

The State Board of Elections is awaiting a ruling on lawsuits involving the ballots from U.S. District Judge William Osteen. Voting rights advocates argue that thousands of ballots with deficiencies are essentially in limbo until a clear process is developed for handling them.

A key issue is how local elections boards should implement a state law requiring absentee voters to have an adult witness their ballot. The state recently developed a new procedure to allow voters to fix incomplete witness information by returning an affidavit to county officials, but not filling out a new ballot from scratch and having it witnessed again.

Those updated rules are currently on hold pending the outcome of lawsuits filed in the matter.

Osteen expressed concerns that the procedure would essentially eliminate the witness requirement. He had previously ruled in August that the state had to ensure voters could fix certain deficiencies, but upheld the witness requirement.

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