QUESTION: What’s the deal with the “multipartisan assistance teams” that are turning up at area nursing homes ahead of this fall’s election? Are these teams really as “multipartisan” as they’re billed? Who sends them out, and what do they actually do?
ANSWER: The very idea that people are deputized to help nursing home residents vote might seem a bit suspect to the uninitiated. But these multipartisan assistance teams are nothing new to local elections officials, who have long depended on them to ensure that the elderly and disabled can take part in elections.
According to Alamance County’s elections director Dawn Hurdle, these specially-trained details are a time-honored and well-regulated part of the electoral process in North Carolina.
“We’ve had them for many years,” Hurdle elaborated in an interview Tuesday. “Basically, we contact our party chairs and ask for volunteers to work on these teams, and we train them by guidelines we get from the state.”
Under current state policy, these teams must comprise at least two individuals with different party affiliations or who are appointed by the bipartisan membership of a local board of elections. In Alamance County, the composition of these teams hasn’t generally involved any input from the local elections board – at least not in the experience of Dorothy Yarborough, a Democrat who currently chairs the five-member board.
“It’s handled administratively unless someone has a question or complaint that requires the board’s attention,” Yarborough explained in an interview, “and we’ve had no questions or complaints while I’ve been here.”
According to Hurdle, a multipartisan assistance team, or MAT, is fairly constrained in what it can do to assist voters in nursing homes, hospitals, and similar facilities. For starters, one of these teams is only sent out to a particular facility when it has been explicitly requested by one or more of its residents.
“Usually someone at the care facility will contact us to say they want one of our multiparty assistance teams,” Hurdle added. “They’ll let us know about how many [residents] have signed up for assistance, and our MAT team will assist them in registering to vote if they aren’t registered and in filling out an absentee ballot request. But all this is only if the voter requests it.”
Once the ballot application reaches the local elections office, its staff will mail an actual ballot to the absentee voter. A multiparty assistance team will then visit the voter to provide additional aid as requested.
“They don’t give any opinions to the voter or say anything about the candidates,” Hurdle went on to emphasize. “If the voter can’t mark the ballot, they will mark the ballot for them.
They will also read the ballot at the voter’s request, and they will serve as the voter’s witnesses.”
The team’s members can also seal the completed ballot and fill out the accompanying absentee application on the voter’s behalf. If the voter is disabled, the team can even put the ballot in the mail, although it is forbidden to hand-deliver the ballot to the elections office.
In addition to a multipartisan assistance team, a resident of a nursing home can also obtain voting assistance from other sources.
If a voter is disabled, the N.C. State Board of Elections allows them to receive help “from any person they choose,” including “relatives, legal guardians, friends, acquaintances, and facility staff where the voter is a patient or resident.” Voters who aren’t disabled also have some latitude in their source of assistance, although they are explicitly prohibited from getting help from their facility’s owner, manager, or staff. Nor can they turn to an elected official, a political candidate, an officeholder with a political party, or the campaign manager or treasurer for a candidate or a political party.