RALEIGH – The State Board of Elections has spent months preparing for the 2020 general election, and even up until Sept. 4 rules were still being finalized for absentee ballots, early voting locations, and verification of counting those ballots.
On Monday, Aug. 31, the State Board met remotely to finalize early voting plans in 18 counties where the county elections boards failed to produce unanimous plans. The state board approved the plans presented by the Democratic majorities on each of the county boards, which was regarded as fait accompli given the state board’s Democratic majority appointed by Gov. Roy Cooper.
Nearly all of the plans, including a controversial decision for Watauga County to locate an early voting site at the Plemmons Student Union at Appalachian State University despite opposition from the university’s administration, were 3-2 votes along party lines.
According to The Appalachian Online, ASU administrators said only the Holmes Convocation Center was available for an early voting site and that nine classes for the school were taking place in the ballroom.
The State Board overruled ASU’s concerns, instead forcing the university to shuffle those classes during the two and a half week early voting period in the much smaller Student Union. The Holmes Convocation Center has a capacity of 8,325 while the Blue Ridge Ballroom, which in the past has been used as an early voting site, has an approximate capacity of 320.
Later in the week, a lawsuit filed to end the state’s witness requirement for absentee by-mail ballots was unanimously rejected. The witness requirement had already been scaled back from two to one for the 2020 election.
For the candidates, campaigns, and political parties, the 60-day absentee voting period is critical as more voters have made absentee ballot requests for this election than any other in state history.
In an interview with North State Journal on Friday, senior advisor to the Trump campaign Josh Kivett and RNC deputy political director Carrie Tucker seemed confident in the game plan they say has been fine-tuned and tweaked to deliver North Carolina for President Donald Trump.
“We have the best data and ground game and we know exactly who we need to turn out,” said Kivett. “I recognize names from previous cycles and they’re going to crawl over broken glass to vote and to get others to vote – and no one is better at turning out voters than the RNC.”
Kivett also said that unlike the Democratic Party, the RNC’s field program never left the state after 2016.
Those sentiments were echoed by Tucker, who told NSJ that enthusiasm didn’t stop when the campaign shifted to virtual outreach.
“We increased participation and training on voter contact. Our neighborhood team leaders weren’t going to let this keep them for motiving voters and supporting the President,” Tucker said when asked about how the field program adapted.
Data provided to NSJ showed that as of this week, the combined operation has over 120 paid staff, made nearly 6 million voter contacts, held over 2,000 training sessions, and drawn over 32,000 event attendees. Its this advantage, Kivett says, that the Joe Biden campaign simply cannot match. “The field program gives us chance to go to their door, talk on the phone, identify what motivates them to turn out,” said Tucker.
“The Biden campaign was non-existent while we were knocking on doors for months. There are a lot of voters who care about their community, and don’t talk politics or post on social media, but we know who they are,” Kivett added when asked about the contrast between the two campaigns. “Our relationships make the difference and that’s what matters when it comes to a turnout operation.”
NSJ also asked Kivett and Tucker about absentee voting, with ballots being sent out beginning Friday – the earliest in the nation.
Kivett said, “You don’t get more points voting early or voting absentee. The reality is people are people and motived voters are going to vote.” Kivett also added that their data showed voters who support the president simply want to vote in-person, either during early voting or on election day. “It’s not when you vote, it’s getting your supporters out. We’ve shocked the world and shocked the media and you’re going to see us shock everyone again,” he said.
“The RNC and NCGOP have been on the ground in 2014, 2016, 2018 – that field presence has never left the state, and I can tell you the Biden campaign is not ready for ballots to be sent out,” said Rick Gorka, communications advisor to the RNC.
The State Board of Elections also rolled out new tools for voters, an online portal to request absentee ballots, and a tool to track the status of returned ballots called Ballot Trax.
“At the State Board, our goal is to ensure all voters can cast a ballot, whether in person or by mail,” said Karen Brinson Bell, executive director of the State Board of Elections. “The absentee ballot request portal will streamline voting by mail for voters who choose this voting option.”