Many people who live in nursing homes or assisted living facilities have health conditions that prevent them from leaving the site to vote in person. That means absentee by-mail voting is common enough that those facilities have some special rules about how to vote by mail in North Carolina.
What are the rules for voting absentee by-mail if you live in a nursing home or assisted living?
Any resident who is registered to vote can request an absentee ballot to vote by mail. Request a ballot here by Oct. 27, and follow the instructions carefully. There is only one unique rule for those who live in nursing homes or assisted living, and it’s a big one:
No one who is employed by or owns the facility can help you complete your ballot or serve as a witness.
Why can facility staff or owners not help you with your ballot or be your witness?
That provision was part of a 2013 law that scaled back some voting options and attempted to institute a voter ID law. The voter ID part was struck down in court, but the nursing home absentee by-mail provision remains.
It was an apparent attempt to prevent nursing home operators helping patients from filling out the ballot themselves. But it makes voting during a pandemic trickier.
Who can be a witness, then, when visitation rules are so strict during the coronavirus pandemic?
Each county in North Carolina is supposed to have what is called a “Multi-Partisan Assistance Team.” These are groups of volunteers or paid workers who visit residents to help with absentee ballot completion and can serve as witnesses.
Anyone over 18 can be a witness, so it's possible a fellow resident of a facility can serve as a witness if coronavirus visitation rules in the facility allow it. A family member could also serve as a witness and assist with completion of the ballot, if the facility has visitation allowances.
It's unclear on what residents should do if visitors are not permitted in a nursing home or assisted living facility, and the State Board of Elections has not issued guidance on that issue.
Who is on a Multi-Partisan Assistance Team?
It’s a group of people appointed by the county board of elections to provide assistance with mail-in absentee voting to voters living at facilities such as nursing homes, hospitals, clinics, or adult care homes.
The makeup of the team includes, at a minimum, two people who have different party affiliations or who are not affiliated with a political party.
More information about MATs can be found here.
Can the Multi-Partisan Assistance Team visit residents inside?
The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services issued guidance in August that said it was “strongly encouraged” for these teams to meet residents outdoors, no more than two residents at a time, to wear protective gear at all times and to maintain six feet of distance.
On Sept. 28, NCDHHS relaxed its nursing home visitation rules to allow visitors indoors for sites with no coronavirus cases in the past 14 days — and in counties where the test positivity rate is less than 10%.
Each facility will have its own policy, so it's up to individual sites to determine if MATs will be allowed indoors.
Can you request a Multi-Partisan Assistance Team?
If you live in a facility or know someone who does, the State Board of Elections encourages you to contact the activity coordinator of the facility. If you do not know who that is or if there is not an activity coordinator, talk to staff or management.
It’s preferable that the visit is arranged by the facility, however residents may also call the county board office to request a visit.
Mecklenburg County's Board of Elections contact information can be found here. All other North Carolina county board of elections can be found here.
Who should request a Multi-Partisan Assistance Team?
Someone who works at the facility should contact the county board of elections.
According to the State Board of Elections, it helps if the facility informs residents about the MAT's visit to ensure the maximum number of voters will be present.
What happens if an employee or owner of a facility does sign as a witness or help fill out the ballot?
Don't do it. It's a Class I Felony.