ColumnsThe Suffragist

Voting By Absentee Ballot Has Already Begun in N.C.

But it's not too late

If you’re running behind on all things voting, now is the time to get caught up. Make sure you’re registered, or update your registration, on the N.C. State Board of Elections (NCSBE) recently revamped website. Then, if you haven’t yet, request your absentee ballot here.

If you have already requested your absentee ballot from the Board of Elections, know that ballots began hitting the mail on Sept. 4, making our state the first to begin voting in the 2020 general election. The deadline for requesting an absentee ballot is Oct. 27. 

“It has to be in my office by the 27th,” says Michael Dickerson, the Mecklenburg County Board of Elections (BOE) Director.

absentee voting

 

However, as we warned in July, it’s a bad idea to wait until the last minute. For one thing, the mail may be running slowly. But another important consideration is that if there are issues with your request you want to allow enough time to correct any errors. To request an absentee ballot, you must share personally identifying information to help the BOE verify that you are a registered voter in this county. 

“If [the application] is incomplete I do not send out the ballot,” says Dickerson, who recommends that you call his office if you need assistance with the application.

It’s also important to note that, if your mail is being forwarded to your address from a former address, it is illegal for any election material to be forwarded. You must fully update your address to receive any official election material there.

Not only do you want to allow for enough time to correct any errors with your ballot request, you want to allow enough time to correct any errors on your actual ballot. Once you receive your ballot back from the BOE, complete it and return it ASAP. Take your time and make sure you follow the directions carefully; sign it – a witness must sign it, too – and don’t forget your first-class stamp. Fortunately, in August, a North Carolina judge ruled that county BOEs can’t just throw out ballots with errors, they must give voters a chance to correct their ballots.

The Mecklenburg County BOE’s mailing address is P.O. Box 31788, Charlotte, N.C., 28231. But what if you don’t trust the post office? You can hand-deliver your absentee ballot request, and your completed ballot for that matter, to the BOE office.

You can also submit your completed ballot in person to an election official at a one-stop early voting site during hours when that site is open for voting. Be sure to wear a mask and know you can’t just toss it into the door; you’ll need to spend a minute with an official while they process your ballot. The Mecklenburg BOE office address is 741 Kenilworth Ave., Suite 202, Charlotte. The BOE has not yet announced the sites for early voting, which will take place Oct. 15 through Oct. 31.

If you decide to drop off your absentee ballot in person, know this: Per state law, you may only drop off ballots for “near relatives” (mother, father, children, grandparents, stepfamily). You’re going to have to spend time with the clerk explaining your relationships with each and every person whose ballot you submit, says Dickerson. And make sure you’re in the right county; you can only vote in your county of residence.

Your VALID Vote Will Be Counted

Claims that some absentee ballots won’t be counted are false. According to Dickerson, “That’s the furthest thing from the truth. Even if the race is over and done with and someone wins by 10,000 votes, we still count all of those ballots that are properly sent to us.”Get your absentee ballot in on time and it will be counted. “In order to have it counted for Election Day, absentee ballots must be in my office by 5 p.m. on Election Day,” says Dickerson. “I will count all ballots that come in that are postmarked Election Day – not mailed, postmarked – if received by the Friday after the election by 5 p.m.”

Another critical reminder: It is a felony to vote twice. As Dickerson told us in July, if you request an absentee ballot that does not mean you absolutely must vote via mail. However, you don’t have to use your absentee ballot. “You may vote that ballot. You may not vote that ballot. You may decide to throw it away and vote in person,” he says, adding, “Don’t do both; I’ll send an investigator out to you because that’s a violation of law.”

There are protocols in place to prevent double voting, and you don’t get take backs if you vote then change your mind. If you vote by mail then try to vote in person you will be stopped. If you try to game the system by doing both on the same day, the in-person vote will prevail. And, yes, says Dickerson regarding absentee ballots, “Each one is inspected by the Board.”

Your absentee ballot is unique to you. It will have a barcode on it that helps the BOE track it through their system. The state board will soon launch a new BallotTrax portal so you, too, can track your ballot online. Check for the portal’s launch via the NCSBE Twitter page.

Review Your Sample Ballot Now

When you look up your registration, you’ll also be able to access your sample ballot for this year’s election. Remember: It’s not all about the presidential race. There are also congressional races, the governor’s race, judges – quite a lot of them – and other important state races. There are races for the N.C. General Assembly and we’re voting for Mecklenburg County Commissioners, too.

The top of the local sample ballot for Mecklenburg County residents.

And, here in Charlotte, there are three bonds on this year’s ballots. If you review your sample ballot now, you can take your time in deciding who you will vote for and whether or not you want to support the bond referendums. Not every race is a choice between a Republican or a Democrat, there are non-partisan races this election cycle and, in some races, you’ll see choices for “third” parties, too.

Your vote is important. Decide with care, and prepare to decide soon.

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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