Absentee voters: Make sure those ballots are postmarked

Posted August 7, 2013


— State Board of Elections members have changed a rule dealing with a small number of mail-in ballots that could lead to some votes not being counted in the future.

The issue revolves around mail-in absentee ballots that arrive at local boards of election offices after Election Day but during a three-day grace period following the close of in-person voting. State law says ballots postmarked by Election Day that arrive during that three-day window should count.

But what about ballots that don't carry a postmark at all? 

That issue came up during a 2011 Morrisville Town Council election, in which eight votes separated two candidates while 11 absentee ballots were in dispute. Most of those disputed ballots were mailed but did not receive a postmark even though they arrived in the mail during the grace period. At the time, state and local elections officials decided they should count.

Those late absentee ballots can swing tight elections because election results don't become official until after a canvass period the follows the unofficial returns on Election Day.

However, new guidance from Attorney General Roy Cooper suggests that elections officials made the wrong call. Specifically, a recent memo says the plain meaning of the statute is clear and says ballots may be counted only if they are postmarked by the election. Ballots without a postmark don't fit the exception as it has been sketched out by lawmakers. 

As a result, the state elections board told local boards Wednesday that such late-arriving ballots without postmarks will not count – at least for the 2013 municipal elections. Although that rule is unlikely to swing a statewide campaign or even state legislative race, closely split municipal races can be decided by just a handful of votes.

"There will be a handful of ballots that are not counted because they don't have postmark," said Board Chairman Josh Howard, a Republican. He ruled on the Morrisville issue in his previous post as a member of the Wake County Board of Elections.

The five-member state board, which includes three Republicans and two Democrats, voted unanimously for the change.

"Unfortunately, I think that has to be the case," said Democratic state board member Maja Kricker.

Elections board staff members say they are adding language to the envelopes used to mail back ballots to make clear to voters they need to make sure there is a postmark, especially if the ballot is mailed back close to an election. 

Howard said he believed a recently passed elections bill will fix the language, making it clear that mail-in absentee ballots without a postmark should count if they arrive during the three-day grace period. But staffers pointed out that the bill may still leave that question unanswered, and lawmakers may need to make a further fix.


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  • junkmail5 Aug 9, 2013

    So to whom do we show our photo ID if we vote by mail-in absentee ballot?

    You don't... but since most absentee votes are republican they don't care about the rampant fraud.

    They'd much rather pass laws to address the non-existent in-person fraud since doing so might reduce democratic votes.

    It's not the fraud they care about, it's winning elections.

  • beaupeep Aug 9, 2013

    And remember Dems, try to keep the number of votes per return address to less than 20 this year.

  • free2bme Aug 9, 2013

    Busyb military votes have always counted. I actually have several military friends some of who where in Afghanistan and Korea during the last election and they voted. President Obama won fair and square and it was even close.

  • kdogwnc Aug 8, 2013

    So to whom do we show our photo ID if we vote by mail-in absentee ballot?

  • Krimson Aug 8, 2013

    Duh, require the Post Office to postmark all absentee ballots. Why make it the responsibility of the voter to make sure the USPS does their job???

  • Vote for Pedro Aug 8, 2013

    What about the military votes? Will they start counting those??? The last two major elections (presidential) at least, most of the military votes didnt even get counted!

    What evidence do you have that would support that notion? My sense is that you say that because you believe President Obama would not have been elected if they had been counted.

  • busyb97 Aug 8, 2013

    What about the military votes? Will they start counting those??? The last two major elections (presidential) at least, most of the military votes didnt even get counted!

  • perseusomega9 Aug 8, 2013

    Do mail in ballots require a voter ID?

  • froggygirl Aug 7, 2013

    ajstevens0439--Indeed, among the users of absentee ballots are the sick and elderly, who can't get out of the house. Must they have someone go to the post office for them and watch the ballot get postmarked?

  • ajstevens0439 Aug 7, 2013

    So the US Postal Service did or did not do its job? How can a ballot make it through the Postal Service without a postmark? What steps will they take to eliminate this from the realm of possibility? How in the world can a voter ensure their absentee ballot has a postmark unless they physically take it to a Post Office and watch the clerk postmark it in their presence? Talk about an inconvenience!