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Voters line up at Karsh Center as early voting begins in NC

Duke will have an early voting site from Oct. 15 to 31 at the Karsh Alumni and Visitors Center.
Duke will have an early voting site from Oct. 15 to 31 at the Karsh Alumni and Visitors Center.

Personal pens and poll workers in PPE are both part of the Duke early voting experience. 

As early voting begins in North Carolina with federal, statewide and local races all on the ballot, voters are already casting ballots on campus at Duke’s Karsh Alumni and Visitors Center. 

Karsh’s doors opened at 8 a.m. Thursday, with voters trickling in throughout the morning. The line out the door was under ten people long midmorning but swelled to more than 30 by 11:15 a.m., with Duke students, faculty and others all waiting to enter. 

The first day of voting at Karsh comes amid Duke’s push in getting community members registered and turning in ballots—including a video message from Duke men’s basketball head coach Mike Krzyzewski.

“Don’t sit on the bench this November,” Krzyzewski said. “Get in the game, please register and vote.”

Inside, poll workers handed out personal pens to voters after passing by a hand sanitizer station. The pens—which were to be used to fill out the ballot and then kept as a souvenir, along with Durham’s “No Bull, I Voted” voter sticker—are part of stepped-up safety measures for conducting an election during a pandemic. 

Other measures included poll workers wearing personal protective equipment—including gowns and face shields—and wiping down more than two dozen voting booths spread out in Karsh’s main hall, as ballots were completed.

Though the PPE and safety protocols are different, much of the rest of the voting process remained the same. Poll workers went over names at a check-in station, with no photo identification required from voters after a federal court order last December prevented the state’s photo ID law from taking effect. That law was passed after North Carolina voters approved a state constitutional amendment on the issue during the 2018 midterms. Prominently displayed signs both inside and outside the venue reminded voters about the 2019 court order. 

Other signs laid out rules for “conduct outside voting sites,” a hot-button issue after President Donald Trump encouraged supporters to “monitor” elections. That has led to rallies outside polling places, which experts have said are likely to scare voters away from voting and could potentially lead to violence. 

The North Carolina Board of Elections rules allow “appointed observers and runners” into polling places, but point out that “intimidating any voter is a state and federal crime,” asking voters to avoid profanity and provocative gestures if arguing in line. 

Those experiencing COVID-19 symptoms—or who cannot enter the polling place because of disabilities or medical concerns—could also vote curbside in the parking lot, where they could fill out ballots from the safety of their cars. That option requires voters to sign an affidavit affirming that they have a valid reason not to enter the polling place. 

But not everything was so unusual. Near the curbside voting spot, signs set up by the Durham County Democratic Party directed voters to the party’s slate of candidates, while activists passed out fliers for voters to use to make last-minute decisions. Those fliers can also be used to double-check a ballot, since voters can legally take information into voting booths—although taking a picture of a ballot remains illegal

Instead, voters have been encouraged to take pictures with the stickers that are handed out on the way out, after feeding the ballot into a voting machine. This year’s “No Bull” sticker was picked by the county Board of Elections after a public vote that narrowed sticker designs down to three finalists. 

For more election coverage from across North Carolina, visit One Vote N.C., a collaborative between The Chronicle and six other student newspapers that aims to help college students across the state navigate the November election.

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