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First Day Of Early Voting Runs Smoothly As NC Awaits Final Ruling On Absentee Ballots

Voters line up to cast their ballots at Beatties Ford Road Library on Thursday, Oct. 15.
Dante Miller
Voters line up to cast their ballots at Beatties Ford Road Library on Thursday, Oct. 15.

The early in-person voting period began Thursday, with long lines at many polling sites across the state. And on Wednesday, a judge ordered the state Board of Elections to rewrite its absentee ballot rules to ensure voters include a witness signature. The judge wrote the board's recent directive allowing voters to sign an affidavit if they don't include a signature is a violation of state law.

We now go to our weekly check in with Mecklenburg County elections director Michael Dickerson.

Sarah Delia: So let's start off with early in-person voting. How'd the first day go?

Mecklenburg County Board of Elections
Michael Dickerson

Michael Dickerson: Wow, that was a lot of voters. I think we topped out over 35,000 Thursday. But as far as the logistics went, it all went quite well.

Delia: Were there any problems with voters maintaining social distance in this first time that we're voting during a pandemic?

Dickerson: I applaud all the voters. For the most part, everybody was in great shape keeping the six feet. We received plenty of compliments about the safety that we had taken for our voters. It really worked out well.

Delia: And on average, how long did people wait in line yesterday?

Dickerson: Well, that depends on where you were. And that's a great thing to think about. If there is a line, double check, because there's easily another site around that might be a shorter line. There were a couple of the sites where they were within an hour. But right down the road, at a neighboring site, there really wasn't much of a line. Keep in mind, that at the larger sites like the high schools have a lot more voting panels, a lot more access to parking. So those are usually much better spots to go.

Delia: I want to make sure we go to that ruling that came down this week that undoes the directive from the state Board of Elections allowing voters to sign an affidavit to fix their ballots missing a witness signature. What should voters do to make sure their vote counts while also making sure they don't accidentally vote twice?

Dickerson: Well, keep in mind, you won't ever actually vote twice. We won't process and your ballot that is in the office now is not accepted, yet. So if you decide, "Well, forget it. I don't think I have a witness signature. I will go vote early," you may do that. And just disregard your absentee ballot when we reply to you after the state gives us direction. But you don't really have to worry about that process, that attempt on your part.

The main thing I do tell people to do is if you are voting absentee, make sure you complete your entire absentee (ballot) so you're not put in this situation. We have over 66,000 absentee ballots that have been accepted and approved by the board, already. And they're all perfect. They're all signed and witnessed and everything that needs to be. So, take your time doing the ballot in the first place.

But at the same time, if you're not certain you can do two things: Wait for us or just disregard your absentee ballot. And if you know you had an error on it, we can go ahead and correct it by you going to vote early.

Delia: Do you have a sense of how many voters in Mecklenburg have already signed an affidavit because their ballots were missing a signature?

Dickerson: We had sent out, I think originally, about 500 -- maybe a little less than that. And we may have received, oh, I guess, a few hundred back that had some sort of information on it to correct. And those are the ones we're just told to hold until the ruling came out two days ago. And then we'll decide and contact the voters and let the voters know what has to be done.

Delia: And staying with mail voting for a moment, do we have any clarity on how late votes will be accepted with late-arriving mail ballots? So, Election Day is Nov. 3. If an envelope is postmarked on Election Day, do we still count it if it arrives, say, on Nov. 9 or Nov. 10?

Dickerson: Well, we're still waiting. I think there's supposed to be a ruling on that by Saturday. And we will find out for certain if we can indeed count those ballots. In the past, we had always counted it up to three days after the election, if it was received in my office with the postmark of Nov. 3. Now it's the postmark of Nov. 3, or nine days after that. So we're waiting to see and we expect to have some sort of guidance from our state sometime Saturday.

Delia: And before we go, give voting a plug. What are polling location hours and how long does early voting last for?

Dickerson: Thank you. We're open weekdays 8 a.m. - 7:30 p.m. We are open Saturdays 8 a.m. - 3 p.m. and Sundays 1-5 p.m. We are running straight through every day of the week until Oct. 31. And Oct. 31 is the deadline by law. And we will close at 3 o'clock, Oct. 31.

Delia: All right. That's Mecklenburg County elections director Michael Dickerson. Mr. Dickerson, thank you so much for your time this morning.

Dickerson: Thank you, Sarah, for having me.

Tell us about your voting experience. Did it go smoothly? Were there any problems? How were the lines? Did you feel safe? If so, why or why not?


Sarah Delia is a Senior Producer for Charlotte Talks with Mike Collins. Sarah joined the WFAE news team in 2014. An Edward R. Murrow Award-winning journalist, Sarah has lived and told stories from Maine, New York, Indiana, Alabama, Virginia and North Carolina. Sarah received her B.A. in English and Art history from James Madison University, where she began her broadcast career at college radio station WXJM. Sarah has interned and worked at NPR in Washington DC, interned and freelanced for WNYC, and attended the Salt Institute for Radio Documentary Studies.