If Guilford County makes it through the November 2020 election without any major problems, Guilford County Board of Elections Director Charlie Collicutt and his staff deserve a very big raise.
The November election is going to be one of the county’s largest in history, and, leading up to it, there have been a slew of changes for the election’s office – even before the coronavirus hit and gave Collicutt a host of new problems to address this year.
In recent years he’s had to do things like worry about the threat of shifting voter district lines, a new voter ID law that was on and then off, a new program that busses students to the polling places, and a state requirement that the office buy millions of dollars worth of a new style of voting machines the county didn’t want or need. Then, in a very short period of time, Collicutt had to train his staff and elections volunteers how to use those machines.
On top of all that, the coronavirus pandemic hit, bringing a large number of changes to the voting process at a time when Collicutt can’t even meet face to face with his full staff.
This week, Collicutt said that, even if there are no statutory changes in store for the election later this year, there are still a great many challenges.
“At this time, I don’t see any statutory changes to how we conduct elections, specifically voting by-mail vs. voting at a polling place or early voting site.” Collicutt wrote in a Tuesday, May 12 email. “However, I am preparing for a huge increase in the vote-by-mail process.”
According to Collicutt, the State Board of Elections recommends that elections officials anticipate 30 to 40 percent of all votes being cast be by-mail.
“For us, that would mean going from traditionally about 15,000 ballots to perhaps 100,000 mailed ballots.” Collicutt stated. “And to elaborate, this is a 3-step process – voter mails in a request, we mail a ballot, and then the voter returns the ballot and we log it, store it, and tabulate it.”
He wrote in the email that each ballot costs approximately $1.10 in postage and mailing alone – not including the increased cost of printed envelopes and instructions.
“I still need my normal funding for early voting and election day,” Collicutt wrote. “But to convert to this volume of by-mail ballots, I’ll need to really ramp up the part-time seasonal staff we use as well as locate and equip some type of facility or room to handle this massive increase. Normally I would max out at about 15 part-time workers in about 4,000 square feet (ballot storage, work stations, ballot-packet assembly lines, etc.).”
That’s just one of the ways elections costs will go up this year in Guilford County, and the county commissioners and staff have already discussed using some of a $93.7 coronavirus federal relief grant given to the county to help cover the cost increase of the new election.
“Additionally,” the elections director wrote, “I am looking at the following: plexiglass partitions for employees and for the public waiting areas, some restructuring of desks to promote social distancing between employees, and some extra pay for precinct workers for election day and early voting for the fall.”
Some elections observers have commented that there have to be a lot of precautions taken in the coming county elections since many poll volunteers are retired people who want to help out the community. Many people pass through polling places in the county and the election workers over retirement age are at a higher risk of bad outcomes from the virus.