What To Know If You Got An Unsolicited Absentee Ballot Request In The Mail
Many North Carolinians have opened their mailboxes over the last month and found unsolicited absentee ballot request forms inside. The forms may have been sent by a political group or an unfamiliar organization, leaving voters wondering if they're legitimate and why they were sent to their address in the first place.
Some voters say they've received absentee ballot request forms from a group called the Center for Voter Information. Others say they got forms from the North Carolina Republican Party decorated with images of President Trump. Some voters got both.
How can you know if they're legitimate?
First, here's a brief explanation of how absentee voting works: If you can't get out to the polls in-person on Nov. 3 (or if you don't want to), North Carolina allows you to cast your vote by mail. All you have to do is tell your local board of elections you want an absentee ballot by sending in an absentee ballot request form. Then, when your ballot arrives in the mail, fill it out and mail it back or drop it off at your county's board of elections by 5 p.m. on Election Day.
Lots of groups are trying to get people to vote by mail during this election not just because they want to get out the vote, but also because it could help mitigate spread of the coronavirus on Election Day. If more people vote by mail, there may be fewer people crowding into polling places or standing close to each other in long lines.
The unsolicited absentee ballot request forms sent by the Center for Voter Information and the North Carolina GOP appear to be legitimate, but you can double check with a few quick tests.
- First, does the form match the one published online by the North Carolina Board of Elections? (Here's a link.)
- Second, is the return address the correct address for your county's board of elections? (Click that link above and see if the addresses match.)
- Third, has any part of the form already been filled out? If so, you'll have to toss it in the recycling bin. A new state law prohibits any group, person, or essentially anyone who isn't you or a near relative from filling out any part of your ballot or your ballot request form.
If the form you received in the mail passes those three tests, then it's legitimate, and you can fill it out and send it in for an absentee ballot.
The more difficult question to answer is why you were mailed a request form in the first place. North Carolina is a battleground state, and many organizations are hoping to activate key groups of voters in order to sway the election in favor of one party or the other.
The Center for Voter Information is a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C., and describes itself as a nonpartisan organization focused on get-out-the-vote efforts. It's closely tied to the nonprofit Voter Participation Center, another nonprofit that focuses specifically on voter registration.
Both groups were founded by Page Gardner, a North Carolina resident and a registered Democrat. A spokesperson said the group's mailings are targeted at people of color, people under the age of 35 and unmarried women.
According to the spokesperson, the Center for Voter Information has sent out 2.3 million absentee ballot request forms in North Carolina ahead of the November election. That includes 80,000 forms sent in June that mistakenly had some voters' information already filled out, which is not allowed. People who received those invalid forms were sent new forms along with an explanation from their local boards of election.
A spokesperson for the North Carolina Republican Party said they began sending out absentee ballot request forms a few weeks ago and are targeting registered Republicans and unaffiliated voters who they believe may lean to the right. The forms were mailed out even as President Trump simultaneously launched attacks on absentee voting and encouraged it in Florida.
If, in the end, you still feel uncomfortable filling out a form sent to you by a third party, you can always download and print your own form straight from the state board of elections website. Also, beginning Sept. 1, North Carolina voters will able to request absentee ballots through an online portal.
If you want to vote by mail, just make sure you request an absentee ballot by the deadline of 5 p.m. on Oct. 27.
Absentee ballots will start going in the mail on Sept. 4, and voters are encouraged to fill them out and put them back in the mail (or drop them off directly at their county elections office) as soon as possible. The U.S. Postal Service has warned that delivering a last-minute crush of absentee ballots may be challenging.
If you don't plan to vote by mail, then polls will be open for early in-person voting Oct. 15-31. and on Election Day. Just be sure to wear a mask and practice social distancing. Poll workers will also be wiping down equipment between each voter.
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