WRAL Investigates

WRAL tests timely delivery of 'absentee ballots' and finds some fall through cracks

Posted October 19, 2020 8:01 p.m. EDT
Updated October 19, 2020 8:20 p.m. EDT

— More than half of the nearly 1.4 million absentee ballots requested in North Carolina remain outstanding with 15 days left until Election Day.

Mailed ballots must be postmarked by Nov. 3 and received by county election officials by Nov. 6 to count. So, with time running short to get those ballots in, WRAL Investigates again put the U.S. Postal Service to the test to see how long it takes "ballots" mailed from different parts of Durham and Cumberland counties to get to a central location in each county.

WRAL took envelopes the same size as those used for mail-in ballots and put paper inside to mimic the weight. Location trackers also were placed in some to see where they traveled.

People sent the envelopes to a rented post office box in Durham or the offices of the Fayetteville Observer from home mailboxes, post offices and postal boxes across the two counties, from Bahama to Autryville, including mailboxes outside a Circle K in Fayetteville and a Subway in Durham.

In a similar experiment performed in Wake County last month, every envelope arrived within three to five days.

The results this time were mostly positive as well.

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Most of the envelopes arrived in two to four days in Durham. But two of the 20 arrived without postmarks – again, any absentee ballot that doesn't arrive by Election Day must be postmarked by then in order to be counted.

Two envelopes didn’t show up at all. Information provided by the location tracker inside showed one was at the post office and just needed to be picked up at the counter. But the second one, which was mailed from the post office on Miami Boulevard at the end of September remains unaccounted for.

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In Cumberland County, most of the envelopes arrived at the Fayetteville Observer within five or six days, including a Sunday and a federal holiday.

One mailed from Autryville arrived without a postmark, however. Another, mailed Oct. 11 at a post office on Cedar Creek Road still hasn’t arrived at the Fayetteville Observer, and its location tracker shows it’s still at the post office in downtown Fayetteville.

Three of the 40 mock "absentee ballots" arriving without postmarks translates to more than 7 percent of envelopes that wouldn't be counted if they contained actual ballots and arrived after Election Day.

Officials with the Postal Service and the State Board of Elections say they're working together to prioritize mail-in ballots with special labels.

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