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

Looking to vote by mail in North Carolina? Here are the steps to make sure your vote counts.

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WRAL Staff
RALEIGH, N.C. — Looking to vote by mail in North Carolina? Here are the steps to make sure your vote counts.

Register to vote

First, you have to be registered to vote. You can make sure you’re registered by running your name through the state’s voter search tool.
If you’re not registered you can do so online, in person at a DMV office or by mail. The deadline for registration to vote in the Nov. 8 election is Oct. 14, so if you’re not registered by then and want to vote you’ll need to do so in person. North Carolina has same-day registration, but only at early voting sites in the lead up to election day.

If you’re registered and want to vote by mail, fill out an absentee ballot request form. This is just what it sounds like. You’re requesting a ballot. This form is not the ballot itself.

Request a mail-in (absentee) ballot

You can fill out the form online. You can also print one out, in English or Spanish, and mail it in.

Sometimes groups mail blank forms out en masse to voters. If you choose to fill that form out, you are simply requesting a ballot to vote by mail.

If you plan to vote by mail, the deadline to request a ballot is 5 p.m. the Tuesday before Election Day.

Fill out your ballot and have it witnessed

On the form, you’ll need to provide either your North Carolina’s drivers license number or the last four digits of your Social Security number. If you mail it in, as opposed to going through the online portal, send it to your county board of elections. Addresses are provided at the end of the form. Ballot request forms should not be faxed or emailed.

Only voters themselves, or a near relative, should request a ballot or handle the ballot itself. If anyone other than a near relative helps someone who's blind or disabled fill out the form, that person’s name and address must be listed on the request form.

Your ballot will come in the mail. You fill it out like a normal ballot, but you need to have witnesses: Either a notary public or two witnesses must be with you when you mark the ballot. (Because of the pandemic, during the 2020 elections only one witness was required.)

A lot of other states use signature verification. They match the signature on the ballot to the one on file with an individual's voter registration. But signatures can change over time, and "matching" can be subjective. So North Carolia requires the witnesses or notary to verify that it's really you casting your ballot.

Witnesses should verify that you marked the ballot yourself, but they should not see how you voted.

Return your mail-in (absentee) ballot by election day

Use the included envelope to return your ballot. Include a copy of your photo ID in the envelope. Affix the correct postage – $1.63 or three "forever" stamps.
Your ballot must be received by your county board of elections by 7:30 p.m. on Election Day.
You can also return the ballot in person, either at your county board of elections or at an early voting site.

Mailed ballots stored securely, not counted until election day

When a mail-in ballot arrives at the county board of elections, it's checked in by county workers. They first look at the outside envelope to make sure there are no problems with it.

Then each mailed-in ballot is stored in a high-security area. In the weeks before the election, the bipartisan county elections board inspects batches of unopened ballots and, if they're completed correctly, directs staff to open them and put the ballots into the counting machine. However, they don't calculate the results of mail-in votes until the polls open on election day, so they don't know who's ahead. The ballots are then returned to secure storage for nearly two years before they're destroyed.

You can change your mind and vote in person. But you can't vote twice.

If you request a mail-in ballot but decide to vote in person instead, simply destroy your mail-in ballot and vote in person.


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