With Election Day quickly approaching and early voting starting last week, Elon University students are gearing up to cast their ballots by mail or in person on or before Nov. 3.
Polling stations are hard at work to process incoming early votes and absentee ballots, with numbers in the county up by over 180% compared to the 2016 election.
Elon education professor and 20-year poll judge for the Alamance County Board of Elections Ren Bryan discussed some of the differences she has experienced this year while working at the polls.
“The volume of paper this year has been phenomenal compared to previous years,” Bryan said, referring to the amount of absentee ballots being submitted.
She attributes this change to “interest in the election, and also anxiety over COVID-19.”
As North Carolina has recently seen a record high number of new daily coronavirus cases, some students are utilizing early voting to avoid crowds of people on election day.
“It definitely made me nervous about being in a big crowd,” said Kai Nehrenz, a junior from Raleigh. She chose to vote early due to her concerns about social distancing.
“I wasn’t planning on voting early this year,” Nehrenz said. She was happy with the precautions her polling station was taking, including requiring people to wear masks due to Raleigh’s mask ordinance. “They had it really spaced out, and they had tape on the floor so people could stay six feet apart.”
Polling stations look a little different this year, with social distancing procedures in place due to COVID-19, and staff taking precautions to protect themselves as well as the voters. Alamance County voting precincts are taking similar actions.
“Our workers will be using masks, face shields, gloves, cleaning everything, and will be requiring six foot distance,” said Dawn Hurdle, the deputy director of the Alamance County Election Board. “We cannot require a voter to wear a mask, but we are recommending that they wear masks.”
Since Alamance County does not have a mask ordinance, voters are not required to wear masks when voting in person.
Tamer Metwali, a sophomore from Davidson, also decided to vote early in person this year due to reservations about not knowing who will be at the polls on election day.
“It makes it feel weird, I can imagine myself going, and having people there just going off at you,” Metwalli said.
Metwalli is nervous about voting in person after the recent pro-Trump parade that drove through Elon’s campus, with some drivers harrasing students. He also discussed his concerns after hearing president Donald Trump’s rhetoric, urging his supporters to go and watch the polls.
“The fact that the president now is willing to tell his followers to go out and take actions into their own hands is just a scary thought as a voter,” he said.
Metwalli acknowledged that the country is more politically divided this election, which makes him more uneasy about in-person voting.
“It seems like today you’re either on one side or the other, there’s no gray area,” Metwalli said. “I feel like it’s caused a lot more aggression, because one group of people can’t understand the side of the other group of people.”
Federal laws prohibit any kind of voter intimidation, and people are not allowed to show up to polling places to watch the polls.
Poll watchers only monitor polling station staff and keep track of voter counts. In North Carolina, county party chairs appoint poll watchers, and these workers are prohibited from getting too close to voters or even speaking with them.
Polling places have strict rules that protect voters when they show up to vote in person. Hurdle depicted what some of those rules would look like at Alamance County polling places.
“Once you cross over a 50 foot line that’s from the entrance to the polling site, there’s no talking about politics inside,” Hurdle said. “The only people allowed inside the polling site are people that are actual voters and people that work for us.”
Even with tensions and concerns high, election workers like Bryan are urging students and especially first time voters to not only vote, but enjoy their moment in history.
“Savor the moment. I think your first vote is very exciting,” Bryan said. “if you’re having your first vote while you’re away at school without your parents there, it’s all on you. You’re an independent voter.”