ColumnsThe Suffragist

Absentee Ballots, Voter Registration and All Your Election Needs

Get your shit together before November

It’s true that this year’s pivotal presidential election isn’t until Nov. 3, but if you’re planning to vote — you are planning to vote, right? — the time to prepare is right now. In addition to registering to vote or making sure your current voter registration information is correct, now is the time to request absentee ballots if you would like to vote via mail.

By taking care of these matters now, you will help ensure that the Mecklenburg County and North Carolina State Boards of Elections will run as smoothly as possible on Election Day and that we have a full vote tally ASAP, though many election experts warn that we may have to wait longer than usual for news about who won and lost. And, yes, there are safeguards in place to make sure that registered voters are only able to vote once, so don’t buy into the fear-mongering.

Register to vote or update your registration

If you need to register to vote or update your registration and are a licensed driver in North Carolina, simply go to the Department of Transportation’s website and follow the directions.

If you’d like to register via snail mail, here’s your link for Mecklenburg County registration.

Once you’re registered or updated your registration, you are indeed ready to vote in the election either in person on Election Day or during early voting, which begins Oct. 15 and ends on Oct. 31 at 3 p.m. Or you can vote via mail using an absentee ballot.

Requesting absentee ballots

In North Carolina, we’ve been able to vote via absentee ballots for a couple decades, but you must request an absentee ballot in writing and then make sure it gets to the Board of Elections office in your county by the end of business on the Tuesday before Election Day.

You may request an absentee ballot in several ways, but they all begin with obtaining a request form.

You can download a copy of a Mecklenburg County absentee ballot, or you can always stop by the Mecklenburg County Board of Elections office during regular business hours. They are located at 741 Kenilworth Ave. in Charlotte.

Send the ballot

Once completed, you can snail-mail your request to the BOE or drop it off in person. You can email it to absentee@mecklenburgcountync.gov. Or you can even fax it to 704-319-9722.

The only caveats to in-person pickups and drop-offs, says Mecklenburg Count BOE Director Michael Dickerson, are that you must wear a face covering and only “near relatives” — i.e. spouse, mother, father, children, grandparent — can drop off completed absentee ballot requests for someone besides themselves.

This is outlined in the N.C. General Assembly’s recent bill regarding special pandemic provisions for the 2020 elections, and so are the details about how all of this will be funded through the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act and the State General Fund.

“The reason why you want to request your absentee ballot now,” says Dickerson, “is that you have no idea what will be happening in November.” It also helps his office plan and prepare.

Preparing for an influx

Dickerson says that 2016 was already a big year for absentee voting with approximately 25,000 ballots submitted by mail. This year, he says, “We’re expecting four times that, so we do have to increase staff.”

The county BOEs also must increase the number of forms, envelopes, postage and labels required. Plus, each ballot is reviewed by a human when it arrives to make sure it’s valid and is then noted in the BOE’s computer system so the same voter can’t then vote a second time in person.

The last day to request an absentee ballot is Oct. 27. “It has to be in my office by the 27th,” says Dickerson.

Use the library

No printer? No problem. As outlined above, you can visit the BOE and request an absentee ballot in person. You can also obtain a copy at any Charlotte-Mecklenburg Library location using their mobile printing options. Currently, because librarians are avoiding financial transactions during the pandemic, you can print up to 10 pages at no charge (it’s usually 25 cents per page).

The absentee ballot request form is three pages. Simply use the library’s mobile print method of your choice, check the hours of operation and go to the section of the library where they usually hold requested books and other materials. A librarian will print your ballot request form once you arrive.

If you wish to fax or email your completed request form but don’t own a scanner use one of several free apps — like Adobe Scan — that you can use to both scan and email documents.

Back to the snail mail basics

If you are mailing in your voter registration or absentee ballot request, or both, you must make sure you properly address the envelope and use adequate postage — a Forever Stamp on a regular envelope will do it. Also include your return address.

(AdobeStock)

So, what happens if your application to register to vote or your absentee ballot is incomplete, or you sent your request to the wrong county? According to Dickerson, “We will notify you via letter or email or phone — whichever you indicate — and let you know that it’s incomplete. But that’s rare.”

When we spoke on July 8, Dickerson said his office had already received about 10,000 absentee ballot requests and, of those, only 100, or 0.01%, had issues.

You can’t do both, but you can be on the fence

What if you request an absentee ballot but want to vote in person instead? Per Dickerson, “You may vote that ballot. You may not vote that ballot. You may decide to throw it away and vote in person — it puts you in control. But don’t do both or I’ll send an investigator out to you because that’s a violation of law.”

Across the state, county BOEs will begin mailing absentee ballots in September. Each ballot will have a unique barcode on it so it can only be used by the voter who requests it. Once you submit it, you cannot change your vote. If you attempt to also vote in person you will be turned away.

Your vote matters too much to leave anything to chance, and that includes waiting until the last minute to submit these simple forms. So, get on it. And please share this information with your friends and family and encourage them to also prepare to vote now.

The Suffragist is a year-long monthly column about the women’s suffrage movement and ways that historic moments and milestones tie into the present in the lead-up to the November election. Read past Suffragist columns here

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