New Absentee Ballot Rules 'Makes It A Little Bit Easier,' Mecklenburg County Elections Director Says
North Carolina voters have now requested just over 1 million absentee ballots and have returned around 200,000 of them. In the midst of all this, the state Board of Elections has approved some potential rule changes for absentee ballots as part of a legal settlement. And the two Republicans on the state Board of Elections have resigned over them.
Joining WFAE to discuss the latest twists and turns is Mecklenburg County elections director Michael Dickerson. He'll be joining us on a regular basis through the election.
Lisa Worf: Good morning, Mr. Dickerson.
Michael Dickerson: Good morning, Lisa.
Worf: OK, so first, these rule changes that still need approval from a judge. They include accepting absentee ballots up until nine days after the election. And if an absentee ballot comes back with mistakes, not requiring the voter to fill out a second one, but instead having the voter send back an affidavit. Do you have concerns about these provisions?
Dickerson: Well, first off, keep in mind, the ballot has, in order for it to be accepted nine days after the election, it has to at least be postmarked by Election Day. So, no, that doesn't bother me.
The other process they're talking about is curing deficiencies with the certification from the voter. We can cure the deficiency in the past if the voter could sign a certification that said, "I sent my ballot, now I forgot to sign something."
Worf: Without filling out a whole 'nother ballot, you're saying?
Dickerson: Correct. Exactly.
Worf: So how is this different, then?
Dickerson: Well, this is now adding a few other options. And basically it pertains to the witness sections. That if the witness did not print his name or did not print their address or if the witness did not sign it or they signed it in the wrong line -- now it says that the voter can cure that part of it through a certification affidavit, also. That just makes it a little bit easier for the voter to get something back to us.
Worf: So does this mean, though, that a voter could have their ballot accepted without having to give a witness signature if they sign off on the affidavit?
Worf: Do you have any concerns about that provision, then?
Dickerson: No. Again, it is going back to the voter and the voter is authenticating that it is their ballot. So I am I'm fine with that.
Worf: Do you fear that these disagreements and resignations at the state board level will impact how people view the integrity of this election?
Dickerson: I would hope not. These are professional people in Raleigh that work with the Board of Elections. They are not politicians. They're actual administrators of an election process.
Worf: Now, your office ended up sending out two absentee ballots to a few hundred people recently. And President Trump has made it a big deal. Is it a big deal? And how did it happen?
Just out: Some people in the Great State of North Carolina have been sent TWO BALLOTS. RIGGED ELECTION in waiting!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 17, 2020
Dickerson: Thanks for reminding me of that, Lisa. It's not like I haven't heard that every day. No, no, no. It is a big deal because we apologized for having done that and we're more embarrassed than it is an issue.
As we were putting mailing labels on the absentee ballot envelopes to send out and the return label to come back to our office with the voters' information on it, those got out of sequence and staff had put some for somebody else on one label.
And what we were able to do, we discovered it as we were auditing the process in that one ballot style, is we went and pulled those ballots out and shredded all those and left the ones that were good. The problem was you had to go back then and reprint all the labels again. And instead of just reprinting the first 300 or 400 that we had, we printed all those labels for that ballot style and the other ones had already made it into the mail stream. So the good ones were in the mail stream. And we did not catch that till after the fact.
So the not-big deal is that each ballot on there is uniquely identified to each voter. So there's no way that that voter can vote that ballot twice.
Worf: Now, at the state level, there have been a few thousand ballots returned by North Carolina voters that were considered "spoiled" because of incomplete information. And ballots of African American voters were considered spoiled at nearly triple the rate of white voters. Are you seeing the same thing happen in Mecklenburg County?
Dickerson: Not yet. Not really. We've spoiled some that have come back and have basically been, you know, ripped or torn or something was missing. I think I've already got 30,000 absentee ballots in the office already for my first board meeting next week. And as we're going through these, I'm surprised how many are in very good shape.
Worf: About how many do you say have come back where you've seen some problems with it?
Dickerson: It's a good question. I would say you're probably less 70 or 80 out of the 30,000 that we're looking at now that have some sort of deficiency on the signature or the witness or the address or whatever it is.That's not bad at all.
Worf: And of those 70 or 80, do you have any idea of the demographics of those voters?
Dickerson: No. Have not looked at any of those yet. And we're going to take care of everybody that we can.
Worf: Mr. Dickerson, thanks for your time.
Dickerson: It's a pleasure being with you. Thanks.
Worf: That's Mecklenburg County elections director Michael Dickerson.
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