A day in the life of a mail-in ballot in North Carolina — find out how they’re handled

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MECKLENBURG COUNTY, N.C. (FOX 46 CHARLOTTE) – Nearly 700,000 mail-in ballots have been returned in North Carolina. Mecklenburg County is among the highest return rate in the state with more than 80,000, according to the Director of Elections.

FOX 46 was given exclusive access Tuesday night to show voters how their mail-in ballots are being handled.

Every Tuesday leading up to the election The Mecklenburg County Board of Elections opens and processes thousands of mail-in ballots. This year has presented new challenges as the number of mail-in ballots has grown by at least ten times.

The mail-in ballot process begins after hours at the Mecklenburg County Board of Elections off in Midtown. Sometimes a ballot doesn’t arrive like it’s supposed to.

One ballot Tuesday night was somehow damaged within the postal process.

“The reason why I brought it up here though is to make sure that it got to the board of elections,” said voter, Kali Furguson.

Your mail-in ballot sees a lot of hands and eyes before Election Day. The first stop is a board room. The five-person board is made up of three Democrats and two Republicans. They meet every Tuesday night, spending hours physically counting the number of mail-in ballots from each day.

Each postal service container holds 800 ballots. This year, half a dozen containers per day are waiting to be counted.

This past Tuesday night FOX 46 was there when they processed almost 20,000 ballots.

“By the time we finish tonight, we will be close to 3.5 times what we did total four years ago. So that’s huge,” said Mecklenburg County Director of Elections, Michael Dickerson.

Some of the process is open to the public.

“So everyone sees that nothing is done in the dark. Nothing is done without sunshine,” said Dickerson.

Sometimes, a representative from the local Republican and Democratic party are on hand.

Once the total number of mail-in ballots per day is confirmed, the ballots move to a room next door where they are opened and sent through a processing machine.

“Nothing gives them a total now. Not until we hit tally and total will it come up on November 3rd,” said Dickerson.

The paper ballots are placed into a box and the processing machine leaves the results on a flash drive. Both items are stored in a secure vault inside the board of elections until November 3. For security reasons, FOX 46 was not told or shown where the vault is.

Processing night doesn’t come without hiccups. There was that ballot damaged in the mail and another came back glued together. One was also torn so it couldn’t be read by the processing machine.

If the ballots can be read with human eyes, a duplicate will be made.

“We will have my staff replicate and my board approve those so it goes through bipartisan eyes and checking to make sure it works,” said Dickerson,

In rare cases if a ballot for some reason cannot be read, or if the envelope came back without a ballot, the voter will be contacted and asked to complete a new ballot.

The board meets to open mail-in ballots every Tuesday night and they are open to the public.

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