With 33 days until the November 3 election, county boards of elections have approved the absentee ballots of about 300,000 voters. This means 4% of registered voters in North Carolina have already cast their ballots in the 2020 general election. They will be counted in unofficial results reported on election night.
“These vote-by-mail numbers are far greater than we’ve ever seen in North Carolina history,” said Karen Brinson Bell, executive director of the N.C. State Board of Elections. “They show that the process is working well for the vast majority of North Carolina voters who choose to vote by mail.”
On Tuesday, September 29, bipartisan county elections boards across North Carolina started meeting to approve absentee ballots for counting on election night. They will continue to meet at least every Tuesday through Election Day to approve additional ballots. For details on that process, see Numbered Memo 2020-25.
So far, a small fraction of absentee voters – about 3.4% – returned their ballot with a problem, or deficiency. Those issues can be corrected, either through a certification process or by issuing the voter a new ballot, ensuring that all eligible voters’ ballots are counted.
“Many voters are casting their ballots by mail for the first time, so some mistakes are expected,” Brinson Bell said. “We strongly encourage voters to carefully read the instructions and be sure to complete all required fields on the envelope. But if they make a mistake, there is still time to fix it.”
Required fields are the voter’s signature and the witness’s printed name, address, and signature. If the voter receives assistance marking or mailing the ballot, the assistant’s name, address, and signature must be provided. (See “Filling Out the Absentee Ballot Return Envelope” below.)
Courts still are weighing how elections administrators should handle ballots that are missing a witness signature. Until then, the State Board has directed the 100 county boards of elections to store those ballots securely until further direction from the courts. (See Numbered Memo 2020-27, issued today.)
Tips for absentee voters
- Request and return your ballot as soon as possible. Ballots must be postmarked on or before Election Day. However, we recommend putting them in the mail at least a week before the election, or October 27.
- Follow the instructions carefully and complete all required fields on the absentee ballot return envelope.
- Track your ballot. Find information here: https://www.ncsbe.gov/voting/vote-mail/absentee-ballot-tools.
- If you receive a ballot by mail but decide to vote in person instead, simply shred and discard your absentee ballot.
Absentee by Mail Voting Improvements
Recognizing that many more voters would cast their ballots by mail in 2020, the State Board took significant steps to simplify the absentee voting process for voters. Improvements include:
- A new Absentee Ballot Request Portal, where voters, for the first time, can request a ballot online. (Press release)
- BallotTrax, a new system that allows voters to track their absentee ballots from request to acceptance by the county board of elections. (Press release)
- The redesign of the absentee ballot return envelope and instructions.
Filling Out the Absentee Ballot Return Envelope
Before returning their ballot, each voter should ensure that their ballot and ballot return envelope are complete.
Before completing the ballot return envelope, the voter should read the instructions in Step 1 (pictured below).
Step 1 explains who can and cannot serve as the voter’s witness. On the ballot return envelope, the voter must sign their name in Step 2 (pictured below.)
For the 2020 general election, only one witness is required for a voter who is completing an absentee ballot. The witness must complete Step 3 on the ballot return envelope, which includes printing their name and address and signing their name.
If the voter needs assistance completing their ballot, they may receive assistance from a person that meets the qualifications in Step 1. The voter assistant certification section of the return envelope must include the assistant’s printed name and address and signature and must only be completed if the voter received assistance.