State elections officials are bracing for major impacts on voting in this year's election in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak. 

Elections director Karen Bell gave a somber update to board members via a telephone meeting. Potential social distancing rules, loss of volunteers, and changes in how people are expected to vote will all have to be considered.

“As we go forward, we will not be cutting our services for in-person voting,” Bell says. “We will maintain those and deliver those actually with more care as we set up sanitation stations, as we do crowd control with stanchions and other efforts to create social distancing.”

And she's worried about the devastating potential the outbreak could have on local economies.

“We have a serious concern of making sure that we get as much money to the counties to help them in their efforts, as many of them, if not all of them, will be looking at budget cuts,” says Bell.

She says about $11 million in federal money tied to helping the state's elections will aid that effort. 

Bell has also recommended to the legislature that some money be used to expand early voting and online registration.

She says the state needs to prepare for a huge jump in mail-in ballots. They usually account for about four percent of the total votes cast, but she says that could jump tenfold.

There's a Republican runoff election in several mountain counties for the 11th District Congressional seat, and Bell says she's concerned that other states that have gone forward with primaries since the outbreak have seen poll workers resigning or not showing up.

Damon Circosta, board chairman, says we are living in a unique and novel time. “But I have no doubt that we're going to be able to conduct an accessible, secure, and fair election in November,” he says. 

For the most up-to-date information on coronavirus in North Carolina, visit our Live Updates blog here. WFDD wants to hear your stories — connect with us and let us know what you're experiencing.

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