RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – The first ballots of the 2020 general election began being mailed to North Carolina voters Friday, as an unprecedented number of people request to vote absentee amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
As of Friday, the State Board of Elections said 643,400 people had submitted absentee-by-mail requests so far, representing about 9 percent of registered voters.
In the 2016 election, about 4 percent of voters cast their ballots by mail. This year, election officials project more than 30 percent of votes will be cast that way.
“We are ready,” said Wake County elections director Gary Sims. “We’ve called in additional forces.”
Sims gave CBS 17 a tour of the county elections building as workers stuffed envelopes and sent out ballots to voters. More than 110,000 voters in Wake County already have submitted absentee ballot requests.
He said the county began receiving printed ballots last week.
“Realistically, even if you requested it early, you’re going to get it in the month of September. But, just be patient. It’s coming. We’ve got you. We’re going to get you taken care of, and you’re going to have plenty of time to get your ballot back to us,” he said. “You’re gonna get your ballot. It has nothing to do with the post office. It’s just a lot of work to get a lot out the door.”
When President Donald Trump visited the state this week, he suggested people send their ballots in early and then attempt to vote in person to test the system.
His statements prompted state election officials to remind people that voting twice is a felony. It’s also against the law to attempt to vote twice or solicit someone else to do that.
In an interview with CBS 17, Vice President Mike Pence reiterated the president’s suggestion that people still go to a polling site on Election Day.
“Well, I think the president was very clear that if you choose to vote by mail, that it would still be a good idea to go to the polls on Election Day to make sure that your vote is counted,” Pence said.
North Carolina officials are urging people not to do that, saying it could lead to longer lines on Election Day and potentially expose people to COVID-19.
“People should not show up just show up to test the system or check the system. You could be committing a crime,” Sims said.
In a news release the NC State Board of Elections noted these ways to track your mail-in ballot online:
- Check your voter record at the State Board’s Voter Search Tool to find out whether your ballot was accepted by your county board of elections. This information will appear in the voter record after a ballot has been accepted.
- Sign up for BallotTrax, when it launches in the next few days, to track your ballot through the system. BallotTrax is a new service that will allow voters to track their ballot through the mail and confirm receipt by the county board of elections, much like they can track their online order or pizza delivery. When it launches, a link will be available at NCSBE.gov.
- Contact your county board of elections if you have questions about their ballot status.
“We are not telling people to vote more than once. Voting more than once or trying to vote more than once is a felony. So, let’s take a minute and be clear about what the President is encouraging people to do,” said state Democratic Party spokesperson Austin Cook. “There are processes in place to make sure that no one’s vote is counted more than once. It has been that way for decades. And, for anyone to suggest otherwise is dangerous and reckless.”
The deadline to request an absentee ballot is Oct. 27. Ballots must be returned by Nov. 6.
Sims encouraged people not to wait that long to request a ballot.
“We’re gonna do everything possible to get it to you, but it’s like gambling. So, that’s the biggest thing,” he said.
He also shared more information about when absentee ballots will be counted.
The county’s board of elections will begin meeting Sept. 29 and then every Tuesday after that to verify absentee ballots have been submitted properly. Ballots must include: the voter’s signature, one witness’s signature as well as the witness’s printed name and address.
The ballots that have been filled out properly can be fed into the high-speed tabulators to be processed, but the results will not be known until after the polls close on Election Day, Sims said.
If there’s an issue with a ballot, such as missing the required witness signature, Sims said the voter will be notified so that they can correct the issue in time for the ballot to count. The county will attempt to reach voters by phone, email and regular mail. Voters have to submit that contact information with their absentee ballot request.
Ballots that arrive by Nov. 2 will be included in the results posted the night of the election, Nov. 3. Absentee ballots must be postmarked by Election Day and received by your county’s board of elections by Nov. 6 to be included in the official total.