Post Office warns mail-in ballots could be returned too late to count in NC

Capitol Report

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – The U.S. Postal Service is warning there’s a “significant risk” that voters could request mail-in ballots on time under North Carolina law “and yet not be returned in time to be counted” if they wait until too close to the deadline, according to a letter obtained Friday by CBS 17.  

The letter came amid a surge in requests in North Carolina by voters who want to vote by mail because of the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Those requests are eight times higher than they were at the same point in 2016, according to data from the NC State Board of Elections and analysis by Old North State Politics. 

“In particular, we wanted to note that, under our reading of North Carolina’s election laws, certain deadlines for requesting and casting mail-in ballots are incongruous with the Postal Service’s delivery standards. This mismatch creates a risk that ballots requested near the deadline under state law will not be returned by mail in time to be counted under your laws as we understand them,” writes Thomas Marshall, general counsel and executive vice president of USPS. 

The letter was written to NC Secretary of State Elaine Marshall. However, her agency does not oversee elections. A spokesman for Marshall said her office sent the letter to the NC State Board of Elections Friday morning.  

In North Carolina, the deadline to request an absentee ballot is Oct. 27. If returned by mail, the ballot must be postmarked by Election Day (Nov. 3) and received by the elections office Nov. 6.  

The USPS says voters who choose to mail ballots in should return them no later than Oct. 30. State law also allows a voter (or a near relative or a guardian) to return a completed ballot to their county elections office or to an early voting site during the early voting period (Oct. 15 to Oct. 31).  

The state is already accepting requests to vote absentee-by-mail. Those ballots will start going out to voters on Sept. 4.  

The USPS sent a similar letter to 46 states and Washington, D.C., the Washington Post reported.  

President Donald Trump has resisted calls by Democrats in Congress to support $25 billion in funding for the postal service as part of a broader COVID-19 relief package, making unsubstantiated claims that other states seeking to move to all mail-in voting would lead to widespread fraud. 

“One of the reasons the post office needs that much money is they have all these millions of ballots coming in from nowhere and nobody knows from where and where they’re going,” he said Thursday. 

In a call with supporters in North Carolina earlier in the week, Trump praised the state’s absentee-by-mail system.  

“In North Carolina, you can request absentee ballots right now. Absentee ballots are great because you have to go and request them,” he said.  

Karen Brinson Bell, executive director of the NC Board of Elections, encouraged people who want to vote absentee-by-mail to submit requests early and return their ballots early as well. 

“There is a high demand on the postal service this year with increased absentee-by-mail voting and all-mail balloting in some states. So, the demand is just great across our country. They’re also having to deal with coronavirus,” she said. “We’re also implementing what we call ‘Ballot Tracks.’ It’s a tracking system to where voters who do vote by mail will be able to follow their ballot in the mail stream.” 

North Carolina voters do not have to provide an excuse to vote by mail.  

“We have a very secure and ready system for absentee by mail,” she said. “There are a lot of safeguards in place in North Carolina, and it’s something that we’ve been doing for some time. So, I’m confident in our system.” 

For more information on all the deadlines and the state’s vote-by-mail process, click here.

Brinson Bell said when the pandemic began, state officials looked into the possibility of moving to an all-mail voting process but determined it would not be feasible. 

“Because we had such a low participation rate typically in our elections with absentee-by-mail, North Carolina voters prefer to vote in person. So, switching their behavior from voting in-person to by mail was going to be quite a task,” she said. “We learned through our counterparts in other states it took them years in some cases to implement an all-mail balloting system.” 

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