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Frequently Asked Questions: Voting by Mail in North Carolina

With COVID19 cases in the United States nearing the 7 million mark, with over 200,000 deaths recorded thus far, more and more Americans are turning to absentee or mail-in voting for the 2020 Presidential Election. States have reported record numbers of absentee ballot requests with North Carolina being one of the first states in the country to begin the process.

The surge of absentee ballot requests is met with increased staffing at local boards of elections, which according to Macon County Board of Elections Director Melanie Thibault, is needed to ensure every vote is counted.

“Voters are getting numerous absentee ballot request forms in the mail and they are filling them out and sending them in to us, it is causing a lot of confusion.,” said Thibault. “The BOE office only sends absentee request forms to a voter who requests one to be mailed to them.  The other requests they are receiving are coming from the political parties. A voter only needs to fill out 1 request and send it into the BOE office.”

To date, two percent of the absentee ballots statewide have been denied by the North Carolina Board of Elections, most of which were denied due to being improperly filled out. Improperly filled out ballots are taken on a case by case basis by local boards of elections, with voters being contacted by mail and given an opportunity to correct the error.

With errors being possible, North Carolina collaborated with Democracy Live to offer registered voters in North Carolina the option to track their ballot to ensure it is counted by the state.

BallotTrax is one of three ways voters who cast their ballot by mail in North Carolina can ensure their ballot has been received by the county board of elections, without leaving their homes.

The BallotTrax service launched Friday, September 11, and is available through links on the State Board of Elections’ website, NCSBE.gov.

“BallotTrax allows North Carolina voters to keep tabs on their mail-in absentee ballot from the comfort of their home,” said Karen Brinson Bell, executive director of the State Board of Elections. “By tracking their ballot, the voter can have peace of mind that their ballot was received by their county board of elections.”

Thibault said that everyone wanting to vote by mail with an absentee ballot must remember:

Step 1: Submit an absentee ballot request form no later than 5 pm Tuesday, October 27

(1) Complete your Absentee Ballot Request Form through the new State Board of Elections ONLINE PORTAL or download and print your ABSENTEE BALLOT REQUEST FORM.

(2) Complete and sign the form digitally or by hand. Include your phone number in case something you write is hard to read.

(3) Return the form via the ONLINE PORTAL or to your COUNTY BOARD OF ELECTIONS OFFICE (CONTACT INFORMATION HERE) in-person or by mail, email, or fax.

If you are unable to use the online portal or to download and print an absentee ballot request form, you can request your COUNTY BOARD mail a blank form to you.

Step 2: Complete your ballot

(1)  Complete your ballot in the presence of a witness.

Step 3:  Once your ballot is completed, do these three things before your return your it:

(1) seal the ballot in the return envelope provided,

(2) complete and sign the Absentee Application and Certificate on the return envelope, and

(3) have your witness complete and sign the return envelope in the space designated as Witness’s Certification.

North Carolina requires all ballots have a witness certification for the ballots to be accepted and failing to have a witness signature is the most common reason a ballot may not be accepted. The witness can be a spouse, a family member, a friend, a neighbor, a member of your church, or anyone else as long as they are over the age of 18.

Step 4: Return your absentee ballot by 5 pm on Tuesday, November 3

You have three options to return the ballot in the provided return envelope:

(1) deliver it in person to your COUNTY BOARD OF ELECTIONS by 5 PM on Tuesday, November 3,

(2) deliver it in person to an early voting site during the early voting period (Oct. 15-31), OR

(3) mail it to your COUNTY BOARD OF ELECTIONS using a 55 cent stamp with the envelope postmarked by 5 PM on Election Day.

Only the voter or the voter’s near relative, legal guardian, or a Multipartisan Assistance Team (provided by the county) may return your ballot— do not give it to someone else to return.

For civilian absentee voters, the container-return envelope with the voted ballot enclosed must be returned to the county board of elections no later than 5 p.m. on Election Day. Absentee ballots received after 5 p.m. on Election Day will be counted only if they are postmarked on or before Election Day and received by mail no later than 5 p.m. November 6.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Question: Does it violate the law if I request an absentee ballot, then change my mind about using it and go vote in person?

Answer: No. As long as you do not vote your absentee ballot, you may vote in person during the early voting period or on Election Day.

Question: Can a polling place accept my voted absentee ballot?

Answer: Yes, but only during the early voting period from October 15–31. Find early voting site hours and locations in your county by using the One-Stop Early Voting Site Search.

Question: Can I return my absentee ballot to the polls on Election Day?

Answer: No. Ballots may not be dropped off at polling places on Election Day.

Question: When are absentee votes counted?

Answer: Upon receipt, the county board of elections staff reviews each container-return envelope for completeness. Beginning five weeks before Election Day, the county board of elections holds weekly absentee board meetings where the approved ballots are inserted into a voting machine. However, results are not tabulated or reported until Election Day.

Question: May another person return my absentee ballot for me?

Answer: Yes, but only if that person is your spouse, brother, sister, parent, grandparent, child, grandchild, mother-in- law, father-in-law, daughter-in-law, son-in-law, stepparent, stepchild, or legal guardian. County boards of elections keep track of who drops off each absentee ballot.

Question: Will I be notified if my absentee ballot is rejected? Will I have a chance to remedy any deficiencies?

Answer: County boards of elections will contact voters when there are deficiencies with their absentee ballot. You should provide your phone number or email address on the request form in case the county board needs to contact you. The State Board encourages voters to carefully read and follow the instructions that come with the ballot. The State Board also encourages voters to request and return their absentee ballot as early as possible to ensure time remains to correct any issues. If an issue arises and the voter is unable to successfully cast an absentee ballot, that voter may still vote during the in-person early voting period or on Election Day.

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