From requesting a ballot to submitting it, a step-by-step guide to absentee voting in NC

Posted August 14, 2020 12:31 p.m. EDT
Updated September 7, 2020 3:06 p.m. EDT

— If you got an unsolicited absentee ballot request form in the mail from a group called the Center for Voter Information, feel free to fill it out, mail it in and get an absentee ballot from the state.

Election officials say the mailings are legitimate, though they're generating lots of questions.

This group, and others, sends out request forms most election cycles, and voters may get multiple forms between now and the Nov. 3 election. The state itself will send the form out later this year, along with a voter guide for judicial elections.

Send the form in only once, State Board of Elections spokesman Patrick Gannon asked.

"Sending multiple ballot requests puts extra burden on already taxed county boards of elections," Gannon said.

The forms that show up unsolicited in your mail are typically pre-approved by the State Board of Elections, which works with get-out-the-vote organizations to ensure accuracy.

But it never hurts to check. This same Center for Voter Information sent out bad forms earlier this year.

The difference? Those were pre-filled with a voter's name and other basic information. That was fine in North Carolina until last year, when the General Assembly changed the law. Now, voters must fill the forms out themselves, and the latest batch meets state requirements, Gannon confirmed Friday.

More people are expected to vote by mail this year, which is also called absentee voting. In North Carolina, any registered voter can do it. You don't have to have a reason.

How do I request a ballot by mail?

If you haven't received a ballot request form from any get-out-the-vote group, you must request one from elections officials by filling out the official state ballot request form.

The voter must provide a driver's license number, a Division of Motor Vehicles non-operator ID number or the last four digits of a Social Security number for identification.

Voters will be able to request absentee ballots through an online portal by Sept. 1, Gannon said. Until then, you can visit the State Board of Elections website, print the form, fill it out and either mail it in, fax it or scan it and send via email. Blank forms are also available at county elections offices.

The legislature voted this year to require the online portal, and eventually voters will also be able to use it to track their ballot through the process.

Forms must be submitted by the voter, a near relative or legal guardian or a member of a multi-partisan assistance team. Forms delivered by any other person will not be processed.

All requests must be received by 5 p.m. Oct. 27 – one week before Election Day.

Can I request an absentee ballot for my child, my spouse or my parent in a nursing home?

Any near relative or legal guardian can request a ballot for another person.

If anyone other than a relative or guardian provides assistance to someone who's blind or disabled in filling out the request, that person’s name and address must be listed on the request form.

How long should I expect to wait to get a ballot?

Counties start sending absentee ballots out on Sept. 4. After that, if you don't get one within about two weeks of requesting one, call your county board of elections to check, Gannon said.

Officials ask that you send your request form – and your actual ballot – in early. There are worries this year that the U.S. Postal Service won't be able to process the expected increase in volume in a timely manner, and the president said that he's against increased funding for the Postal Service because it might aid an expansion in mail-in voting.

The president has railed against voting by mail, despite efforts from Republican groups to encourage their voters to vote absentee.

Witnesses – how many do I need, and can we do it socially distanced?

Although two witnesses are usually required for absentee voting, only one witness is required for the November 2020 general election. The witness only needs to see that the voter actually votes the ballot, so he or she can be socially distant from the voter.

People under 18 and political candidates aren't allowed to be witnesses, unless the candidate is a near relative of the voter. Nursing home staff members usually aren't allowed to witness absentee ballots either, but a federal court order relaxes that rule for the November election because of visitation restrictions at most nursing homes during the pandemic.

The witness must then complete and sign a certification included with the ballot.

Can I return this in person? How do I find out where?

The absentee ballot may be mailed or delivered in person to the county board of elections office or any open early voting site during the early voting period, which starts Oct. 15.

Only the voter or the voter’s near relative may possess the absentee ballot to return it to the board of elections.

How many stamps does the ballot need?

One first-class mail stamp is sufficient to mail an absentee ballot.

What is the deadline to mail? To drop off?

The absentee ballot 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 received by mail by 5 p.m. three days after Election Day and postmarked on or before Election Day.

What if I miss the deadline or change my mind? Can I vote on Election Day instead?

Even if you requested and received an absentee ballot, as long as you haven't submitted it, you can vote early in person once early voting locations open on Oct. 15 or at your precinct on Election Day.

The general deadline to register to vote in the election is Oct. 9. However, you can do same-day registration during the early voting period – registering to vote and voting on the same day at your early voting site.

Same-day registration is available only at early voting locations, not at precincts on Election Day, and it requires one of several forms of identification.

People can check their voter registration status online.

The state has answers to frequently asked questions about voting by mail online, as well as other details about absentee voting.

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