Special teams can provide ballot assistance

Published 9:04 pm Sunday, October 2, 2016

Beaufort County voters living in nursing homes or similar care facilities and who need help filling out mail-in absentee ballots may receive that assistance by contacting the Beaufort County Board of Elections.

That issue, among other election-related topics, was discussed by the board, representatives of the county’s Republican Party and representatives of the county’s Democratic Party during a meeting last month. Those representatives had questions about what assistance could be provided to voters in nursing homes or other care facilities.

“We can have a MAT team that will go out — a bipartisan team — and I haven’t had any requests for that, but if I do, I’ll have to get up with y’all and y’all can put somebody on it,” said Kellie Harris Hopkins, the county’s elections director, at that meeting.

Beaufort County, as do the other 99 counties in the state, has a Multipartisan Assistance Team available to provide assistance with mail-in absentee ballots. Each team is composed of, at minimum, persons whose voter registrations are affiliated with two different political parties (or people appointed by a county’s unbiased Board of Elections). Team members undergo training by their respective boards of elections) and receive certification before they are allowed to help voters, according to the State Board of Elections’ website.

“We have not had any voters that have said they cannot find witnesses or we need help to fill it (ballot) out. Most people handle that themselves, on their own. If we get a request for it, then I’ll be contacting y’all because there has to be one Republican and one Democrat on that team,” Hopkins said at the September meeting.

The Beaufort County MAT was formed in 2014, but it was not used because no one requested assistance. Anita Bullock Branch, deputy director of the county’s Board of Elections, and Republican Jackie Leggett were on that team.

The assistance also is provided to people with limited mobility or who have disabilities. “Oftentimes, these voters require assistance in completing the forms or marking the ballot (also, casting a mail-in absentee ballot requires witness signatures from either two witnesses or a notary public),” according to the State Board of Elections’ website.

According to state law, the first preference is for a voter to receive help from a close relative or guardian in submitting mail-in absentee ballots. Some voters do not have a close relative or guardian available to provide that assistance. Employees of hospitals, nursing homes, clinics and rest homes are not allowed to provide such assistance, according to state law.

A MAT may assist eligible voters these ways:

  • Requesting a mail-in absentee ballot: To receive an absentee ballot by mail, a request must be made on the official Absentee Ballot Request Form. MATs can provide this form and help fill it out if necessary. The form is then delivered back to the proper county’s board of elections office, and the ballot will be mailed in the following days.
  • Casting a mail-in absentee ballot: If a voter has requested a mail-in absentee ballot, it will arrive in the mail, along with a special return envelope. On the back of the return envelope, the voter must enter some information and sign his or her name. It is also required that two witnesses (or a notary public) are present while the voter marks his or her absentee ballot, and those witnesses sign on the return envelope as well. MATs can help with marking the ballot, completing the required information on the return envelope, and serving as witnesses to the act of voting. MATs can also place the ballot in the mail to go back to the county board of elections office.

Absentee voting is under way in the county. Early voting (one-stop) begins Oct. 20 and concludes Nov. 5. In Beaufort County during the first week of the early voting period, the Board of Elections office will be open from 7:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Oct. 20 through Oct. 22 and Oct. 24 through Oct. 26. The schedule for the last 10 days of the early voting period follows: extended office hours at the Board of Elections office, 7:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Oct. 27 through Oct. 29 and Oct. 31 through Nov. 5, and from 7:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Nov. 5. Three satellite offices (Aurora, Belhaven and Chocowinity) would be open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Nov. 2 through Nov. 4 and from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Nov. 5, totaling 198.5 hours. There is no early voting on Sundays in the county.

For more information about the MATS program in Beaufort County, call the Beaufort County Board of Elections at 946-2321 or visit www.ncsbe.gov/ncsbe/Voting/Absentee-Voting/MAT.





About Mike Voss

Mike Voss is the contributing editor at the Washington Daily News. He has a daughter and four grandchildren. Except for nearly six years he worked at the Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Va., in the early to mid-1990s, he has been at the Daily News since April 1986.
Journalism awards:
• Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service, 1990.
• Society of Professional Journalists: Sigma Delta Chi Award, Bronze Medallion.
• Associated Press Managing Editors’ Public Service Award.
• Investigative Reporters & Editors’ Award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Public Service Award, 1989.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Investigative Reporting, 1990.
All those were for the articles he and Betty Gray wrote about the city’s contaminated water system in 1989-1990.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Investigative Reporting, 1991.
• North Carolina Press Association, Third Place, General News Reporting, 2005.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Lighter Columns, 2006.
Recently learned he will receive another award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Lighter Columns, 2010.
4. Lectured at or served on seminar panels at journalism schools at UNC-Chapel Hill, University of Maryland, Columbia University, Mary Washington University and Francis Marion University.

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