RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Even as President Donald Trump tries to cast doubt on the legitimacy of all-mail elections, North Carolina is seeing a substantial increase in the number of people seeking to vote by mail this year, according to data from the North Carolina Board of Elections.
Catawba College political science professor Dr. Michael Bitzer, who writes about politics at Old North State Politics, has been analyzing the requests to vote absentee-by-mail in North Carolina and found that there are five times as many requests compared to this same point in 2016.
“Donald Trump won that vote method in 2016. So, he could be doing lasting damage to voters who utilize that particular method,” Bitzer said.
On Thursday, President Trump tweeted again about all mail-in voting claiming it would lead to fraud and even suggested delaying the election, even though he does not have the authority to do that.
“With what the president has said in the past and particularly what he is saying today regarding vote-by-mail, it may certainly depress the numbers of Republicans who utilize (vote-by-mail),” Bitzer said.
The NC State Board of Elections released a statement Thursday saying absentee-by-mail voting is “safe and secure in North Carolina.” Leaders of the agency estimate between 30 and 40 percent of all voters will choose to utilize this method in the 2020 election compared to about 4 percent in 2016.
So far, 108,109 people have requested mail-in ballots in North Carolina compared to 19,510 at this same point in 2016, Bitzer’s analysis of the NCSBE data shows.
Among the people who have requested those ballots this year, he found: 51 percent are registered Democrats, 35 percent are unaffiliated and 13 percent are registered Republicans.
At the same point in 2016, 38 percent of vote-by-mail requests came from Democrats, 36 percent from Republicans and 26 percent from unaffiliated voters.
“Voters perhaps want a safe way to be able to cast their ballot. I think also voter intensity and interest is probably at record levels for this year’s election,” Bitzer said. “There could be some campaign strategy going on behind the scenes that could be motivating these numbers as well.”
The Republican-controlled General Assembly passed a bill earlier this year aimed at making it easier to vote by mail by giving people more options to request absentee ballots and reducing the number of witnesses people need to have sign their ballots from two to one.
The NC Republican Party recently sent out a mailer to voters encouraging them to register to vote by mail.
It included part of a tweet from President Trump on July 10 that reads, “…Absentee ballots are fine because you have to go through a precise process to get your voting privilege.”
The party blurred out the rest of the tweet, which reads, “No so with Mail-Ins. Rigged Election!!! 20% fraudulent ballots?”
In an interview this week, NCGOP chairman Michael Whatley said President Trump is trying to draw a contrast between all-mail elections and the system in states like North Carolina where people have the option of requesting a ballot by mail or voting in person.
“(The president) has said on numerous occasions that absentee voting is very solid and a good way to do it. But, we do not want to go to an all-mail vote process,” he said. “We do think we’re going to have 65-70 percent of all votes cast, will be cast by Election Day. Traditionally, Republicans fare very well during absentee voting, and we don’t think this year is going to be any different.”
Rachel Weber, North Carolina press secretary for NextGen America which was founded by former Democratic presidential candidate Tom Steyer, said her organization is working to engage young voters and get Democrats elected this year.
This week, she said her organization reached out to more than half a million people in the state between the ages of 18 and 35 encouraging them to register to vote by mail.
“Because of the fear stoked and conspiracy theories driven by this White House administration around vote-by-mail and around the coronavirus pandemic, we’re seeing a partisan breakdown where there shouldn’t be,” Weber said. “They’ve made their bed. Now they’re going to have to sleep in it. From our perspective, our main focus is just making sure that young voters, though, are ready and equipped to vote by mail.”
Bitzer pointed out that in North Carolina, voters have the option of requesting to receive their ballot in the mail but can then drop that ballot off at their county board of elections office or at an early voting site during the early voting period.
Absentee ballots will begin to be mailed out to voters Sept. 4. The deadline to request an absentee ballot is Oct. 27.
For more details about how to request an absentee ballot and the rules in North Carolina, click here.
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