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COVID-19 has changed just about all aspects of day to day life since the virus began its spread throughout the U.S. back in March. Schools and offices have been shut down, some businesses remain closed, and even high school graduations were limited by social distancing regulations. And many are asking how the virus will affect another key activity: voting. 


As many know, the November 3rd presidential election is quickly approaching. However, what many don’t know, especially high-school-aged, first-time voters, is how the voting process will be made possible in the midst of this pandemic. Between long lines at polling locations and shared voting materials, traditional polling can risk physical contact and viral spread. How will the Durham Board of Elections make the voting process safe?

Pam Oxendine, a board member of Durham County’s Board of Elections and of Kids Voting Durham, is just the person to answer this question. Recent Board of Elections meetings have addressed the precautions needed to keep in-person voting safe for all citizens as well as precinct officials. 


Oxendine explained that in the new fiscal year, which started this July, the Board of Elections’ budget committed significant funds towards purchasing hygienic materials in order to prevent viral spread at the polls this November. Face masks, table shields, cleaning supplies, single-use pens, and social distancing markers are just a few of such items that are being purchased. A mail drop box for absentee ballots, gallons of hand sanitizer, face shields for precinct officials, and disposable gloves have already been purchased in the interests of protecting voters and poll volunteers come November. 


While Durham County is responsible for ensuring that its polling facilities are safe to the public, there are things that voters themselves can do to help combat viral spread. Wearing a face mask and practicing social distancing while polling are somewhat well known and basic methods of preventing further infection. However, early voting or casting an absentee ballot are other ways to promote safe voting, especially for first time voters without polling experience.


 “It may take a little longer in the fall to vote, because of the social distancing, but we encourage early voting,” Oxendine said. “Early voting will really help, so we don’t have so many people coming out on election day. We can spread the voting out more.” 


Participating in early voting, which will last from October 15th to 21st in Durham, is a great way to protect yourself and other voters from COVID-19.  One-Stop Early Voting also allows voters who have not yet registered to vote to do that at the same time they cast a ballot at one of these locations.   The 2020 presidential election is expected to yield a high voter turnout and consequently more crowded polling stations, so a more spread out pool of voters would be beneficial. 


Another important avenue of voting during this pandemic will be h which allow citizens to cast their vote from home and mail it in to Durham’s board of elections. 


“Some people are just not going to feel safe about coming out, although we have put these things in place for them to come out and vote in person,” Oxendine said. “We do anticipate an uptick in the absentee ballot votes.” 


Voting from home is a great option for this election in terms of limiting contact and viral spread. Absentee ballots can be requested by contacting Durham’s Board of Elections before the October 27th deadline. However, it is recommended that voters request their ballot as soon as possible to avoid any possible mailing complications. Information about absentee ballots, early voting, and much more can be found at the Durham’s Board of Elections website at dcovotes.com.  


Given all these efforts to ensure safe and accessible polling options, voting is sure to be a unique experience this November. For first time voters, however, these changes might be even more scary. Jordan Landis and Liana Bradley, two recent graduates of Riverside High School and Durham School of the Arts, respectively, are both voting in their first presidential election this November. When asked if they would feel safe participating in in-person voting in the fall, Landis and Bradley had a similar response.


“I feel like it would even be worth the exposure to COVID to vote, honestly,” Landis joked. 

“I wouldn’t say I feel safe, but I feel that at least for me personally I would take the risk to go vote. I think that this election cycle is so dire…and I know that voting conditions are going to be changed so that we can try to make it as safe as possible,” Bradley said. 


Both Landis and Bradley also expect this to be the attitude among their peers and other high school aged voters.  “In the general media stream that I’m following, there’s this huge movement of millennials,” Bradley said. “We really want to vote.”


These two first-time voters project a bright future for young people this November, and rightly so. The Pew Research Center projects that in the 2020 presidential election, one out of every ten eligible voters will be between the ages of 18 and 24, a member of Generation Z. This means Kids Voting Durham will have an especially important role in encouraging 18-year- olds and other new voters — many of whom have been voting with KVD since elementary school — of age to get out and vote. First time voters are poised to have a huge impact on the electoral results this year, and both Landis and Bradley want their peers to be ready.


“I would say definitely research your candidates and what their political agenda is, just to inform yourself,” Landis said. “Be aware of who you are voting for.” 


“Form your own opinion on candidates and really read into their website,” Bradley advised. “Then also take that information and add it into the media you are consuming, because I think both are really great resources for learning about candidates. But one way or the other, you’re not going to get the full picture.” 


Voting during a pandemic is an unexpected issue that we unfortunately have to deal with.  However, both the city of Durham and voters throughout our county are taking steps to ensure the public’s safety this November. Social distanced polling stations, early voting, and absentee ballots create countless different ways for citizens to cast their vote safely. But the most important thing, especially for first-time voters, is to stay informed.


Voting by Mail/Absentee Ballot


Voting by mail, also called absentee ballot voting, is available to every registered voter in North Carolina. To vote by mail you must fill out an absentee ballot request form and mail or email it to the Durham Board of Elections by October 27, 2020. Once you receive your ballot in the mail you must fill it out and mail it back to the board of election, postmarked by November 3, 2020.


One-Stop Early Voting


·       Runs from October 15-31 and eligible voters can vote in person at any location

Voting on Election Day

Election Day is November 3, 2020 

Polling sites are open from 6:30 am-7:30 pm.  

You MUST vote at your assigned polling site on Election Day; lookup your polling site at ncsbe.gov/RegLkup/

Only voters who are already registered can vote on Election Day

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Emma Busch

My name is Emma Busch, and I'm a sophomore at Durham School of the Arts! I'm a part of my school soccer team and orchestra. I just started as a Kids Voting volunteer this summer, and am super excited ...

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