County Election Director On Witness Rule Change, Duplicate Requests And Damaged Absentee Ballots
We're in the thick of election season right now and the twists and turns continue. Election offices across North Carolina began processing the first absentee ballots this week, on Tuesday. The next day, a federal judge issued a warning about a rule change regarding mail-in ballots the state Board of Elections approved.
As part of our weekly check-in, Mecklenburg County's election director Michael Dickerson joins us.
Lisa Worf: Good morning, Mr. Dickerson.
Michael Dickerson: Good morning, Lisa.
Worf: So, last week we talked about this rule change the state board approved as part of a legal settlement and it would have allowed voters to fill out an affidavit if there are problems with absentee mail ballots such as a missing witness signature. But a judge said that change would undo a state law and there’s a hearing scheduled on it for next week.
Pending the legal review, the state board of elections said, "Stop sending out the affidavits when it comes to a missing witness signature." So, does stopping that make it easier for election office or is just adding more confusion to the process? I mean, your office has already starting sending out some of these affidavits.
Dickerson: Correct. By directive, within one day after we review it, we were required to send a cure affidavit out to the voter. And, that, we had been doing. My board for the last week had directed us to separate those when they knew that the challenge was out there to this, so that if the courts do hand something else down, we will be able to quickly go back in. Instead of trying to go through 36,000 -- 45,000 by now, I guess -- absentee ballots, we will be able to just easily pull those out and have those sent to any sort of voter for any sort of correction that might be needed.
Worf: And you pulled about 450 or 500 of those. So it's probably a fraction of those that you would have to then spoil their original one and resend another one?
Dickerson: Yes. So, the witness certification is something that you would have to spoil and send the new ballot to. And you're right, that's only going to be a portion of the 450 or 500 that we have.
Worf: Now, we're hearing from election offices across the region that they're getting a lot of duplicate requests for absentee ballots, partly because people are getting so many of these requests for requests in the mail from campaigns, from advocacy groups and things like that. Is your office seeing the same thing?
Dickerson: Yes. We've got over 9,000 duplicate requests in our office. And not just a single duplicate request, but sometimes we get three, four or five duplicate requests from the same voter. Part of the issue is, in the past, we always produced a list of everybody who requested an absentee ballot by mail. And that was public record 60 days before the election. We had to have that registry complete, up on a website.
And ever since three years ago, when they had the ballot harvesting issue in a few counties, that law changed. That said, now your request for an absentee ballot is not public record until your ballot has been counted and approved by the Board of Elections. Yeah, it's troublesome to see that many duplicate requests come into the office.
Worf: So what you're saying is that candidates and groups would look at that list and not send one to you if you've already requested it? That would cut down on it?
Worf: And "troublesome" because it creates more work for you? Or should we have any concerns that people may be getting more than one ballot because more than one request for an absentee ballot is coming in?
Dickerson: No. Keep in mind, when you put in that request, you're then tagged in our system as saying "already requested." So you can't have a second request. But it does require extra work on our part.
Worf: We got a question from a listener. So, she received a ballot and it came with a tear along one of the folded seams. She didn't want to risk sending it back and not getting another one in time or risk getting another torn one. So she wondered, can she just discard the ballot and vote in person instead?
Dickerson: Sure she can. Remember, we only mark you as voting if you properly execute that ballot and send it back to our office. We do not count you as voting if you just ask for a ballot.
Worf: So it's kind of an insurance policy, then -- getting an absentee ballot, but then choosing to vote either early in person or on Election Day?
Dickerson: Sure. And that's perfectly fine. I fully expect there's 20-30% of the requests that we get were just that.
Worf: That's Mecklenburg County's election director, Michael Dickerson. Thank you, Mr. Dickerson.
Dickerson: Thank you for having me.
Sign up here for The Frequency, WFAE’s daily email newsletter.
What questions do you have about the 2020 election, absentee voting or how to vote safely in person? Share your questions below.