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2,000 in Mecklenburg apply for absentee ballots as voting starts Friday

SoVaNow.com / September 16, 2020
Mecklenburg County General Registrar Jason Corwin updated the Mecklenburg County Board of Supervisors on the status of voting in the Nov. 3 General Election during Monday night’s monthly meeting of the board.

“I want to clear up a few misgivings,” said Corwin — the first being that Virginia is not holding an all vote-by-mail election. Voters can cast their ballots in person on Election Day.

To date, the Registrar’s Office has received more than 2,000 applications for absentee ballots. Of those, 1,720 have been approved for issuance. “That’s equal to 80 percent of all people who voted early or absentee in the 2016 November General Election and we’ve had no in person voting yet,” Corwin said.

In-person early voting starts Friday, Sept. 18. Citizens who wish to cast an early ballot can do so at the Registrar’s Office, 439 Madison Street, Boydton. Office hours are Monday through Friday between from 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. You must show photo identification before you will be allowed to vote, Corwin said.

He expects a crowd of around 200 voters to show up the office on Friday, the first day for early voting. “That’s record-breaking.”

Corwin asked County Administrator Wayne Carter to allow him to open the Registrar’s Office to the public — currently, all county offices not located at the courthouse are closed until further notice. Corwin said he does not plan to place voting machines outside for use by the public. “I don’t want to risk damaging the voting machines or ruining ballots because of rain and it’s supposed to rain on Friday,” he said.

A new law now in effect in Virginia requires local registrars to secure all early ballots in a drop box located at their office. Because the expense to locate a drop box outside his building was cost prohibitive, Corwin said the county registrar’s office would make a drop box accessible inside during business hours.

“We are also now required to track every ballot,” Corwin said, something he said Mecklenburg County has been doing since 2016. “We can track every ballot from the time it leaves the registrar’s office until it returns,” Corwin told supervisors.

Another new law requires the registrar’s office to pay the return postage costs for all absentee ballots. That’s an additional $1.15 per ballot, he said. Corwin expects the county to incur additional expenses of around $2,000 to $3,000 with this year’s fall vote.

“Elections will not end on Election Night,” Corwin cautioned. His office must wait until noon Friday following the Nov. 3 election before it reports total unofficial election results. “We have to count every ballot that comes in after the close of the polls if it is postmarked on or before Election Day, he noted.

Corwin said the coronavirus has hampered his ability to recruit poll workers for Election Day. “We currently have a large influx of people who say they want to be elections officers. So far, 23 new people have applied.”

He thanked county supervisors for considering his request to use a portion of the CARES Act money the county received this year on election expenses. Corwin said he plans to use the funding to purchase new poll books, and to pay for part-time help to assist with processing the influx of new voter registrations and ballot requests.

In other business, Superintendent of Schools Paul Nichols shared an overview of construction work in Baskerville as contractors proceed with the consolidated school complex for the new Mecklenburg County High School and Middle School.

“We are making progress with construction at the new school complex,” said Nichols. He shared an overview prepared by officials with Skanska, the company hired to serve as contract administrator for the project.

“The earth-moving operation is nearly complete and the slabs have been poured for the high school and middle school gyms and kitchen and cafeteria areas. The plan is to start pouring slab for classrooms this week,” Nichols said.

The COVID-19 pandemic has not caused a delay in the construction timeline, but general contractor Cleveland Construction, Inc. has backed up the date for final completion of the project. Nichols said the building will be finished in late spring as planned, but outside landscaping and completion of the athletic fields will take a little longer.

Nichols reminded board members that schools started “last week.” Because of transportation issues — only 21 children can ride the bus together, the number drops to 12 if students are not wearing masks — the school division was unable to arrange sufficient transportation to bring all students in for face-to-face learning. The school board made a decision to limit in-person classroom instruction to the elementary grades, to serve students most in need of an interpersonal educational experience.

“There is a plan in place to implement distancing learning for the balance of the elementary school [population] not already involved in distancing learning,” said Nichols. “About 40 percent of parents chose full-time distance learning for their children — including first and second graders if the county goes back into the red,” referring to a color-coded system for assessing public health risks, developed by virus researchers.

Red is the highest risk level, where community spread is likely. Mecklenburg County stayed at risk level red until Sept. 13, when the county’s status changed to orange.

Mecklenburg turned red on Sept. 6, two days before the new school year was set to start, Nichols explained, adding that he “could not have students not come to school. As of Thursday [Sept. 10], the county was still in red but [elementary] students were still being trained on how to do distance learning. We may have to pivot” and send kids home, “but for now we are back in orange [risk level].”

Mecklenburg County Public Schools has used some of its federal CARES Act funding for responding to the pandemic to purchase additional WiFi hotspot devices for home internet access. “Initially, 375 parents said they needed a hotspot device. We purchased 450,” Nichols said. “On the first day of school we found we needed another 200. So, we purchased more to take care of the demand. We hope they will arrive soon.”

Nichols said the school division’s biggest area of concern right now has to do with lack of responses from some students who have signed up for virtual learning at home. Nichols said school officials were looking into the reason for their non-responses, and whether students and families are unaware of the need to report back to the school division — or if there was another issue.

Nichols reminded students and parents who are experiencing problems with either their Chromebooks or their mobile hotspot devices to contact the school division. “Other arrangements will be made to get those students their lessons,” he said.

Mecklenburg County Emergency Services Coordinator Jon Taylor provided an update on coronavirus spread in the county. “At the beginning of August, COVID-19 numbers in the county began spiking,” said Taylor. “About 80 people are currently in public are infected. These cases are community cases — not in a facility.”

Carter pointed out that the number of infections had increased four-fold since Mecklenburg County had first reopened local government offices to the public at the start of the summer. Right after Labor Day, Carter decided to again close the county offices to the public out of an abundance of caution for administrative staff.

Mecklenburg has begun spending some of the more than $2 million in CARES Act money it received. One purchase is a large inflatable tent that will be used for drive-thru testing and vaccinations. Taylor noted, “This will help with the health department, which is already looking for spaces to use [for testing and vaccinations].

"We are also trying to help with internet coverage for school kids and to get more broadband service and more mobile WiFi units to areas where there isn’t fiber,” Taylor said.

Carter said Mecklenburg County has agreed to spend $1.13 million on a broadband project that covers six different areas of the county. County officials have authorized the purchase of up to five communications towers.

“We are trying to find locations [for the towers] and are adding broadband service at Buckhorn, Lake Gaston and Palmer Springs fire departments,” Carter explained. The open hot spot will be accessible by the public daily from 6 a.m.-10 p.m.

County officials are in discussion with Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative to locate additional mobile hot spot locations the public can access. The portable WiFi will have 20-foot masts to try to get the antennas up high enough to beam service to such areas as Ivy Hill, the Ponderosa area nearby Townsville, N.C., and Nelson.

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Comments

Great plan on the wifi - i would demand the new towers are all 5G. Also suggest alocating money for a Starlink ground station. True Broadband - upto 1mbps downstream 200 mbps upstream. -20ms latency. Will cost approx 80$ per month unlimited data > real unlimited no cap or throtteling

Comments

sorry typo = 1gbps downstream


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