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Follow the latest news and information about voting and the 2020 election, including essential information about how to vote during a pandemic and more.

Envelopes Still Trickling In As Deadline To Count NC Absentee Ballots Approaches

Mecklenburg County election workers at a table in the office
Coleen Harry
Mecklenburg County election workers at a table in the office

This article is made possible through a partnership between WFAE and Votebeat, a nonpartisan reporting project covering local election integrity and voting access. This article is available for reprint under the terms of our republishing policy.

The North Carolina State Board of Elections says roughly 22,000 absentee mail-in ballots have been returned since Election Day, but state officials say they’re still waiting for more than 94,000 ballots.

State election officials say they expect the number of ballots county boards receive will be less than that number because some voters likely decided to vote in person on Election Day while others probably didn’t vote at all.

“We are nearing the finish line,” Karen Brinson Bell, executive director of the State Board of Elections, said Monday in a statement. “We ask that the public please be patient as county boards of elections, as required, continue to count all eligible ballots that arrive by mail, conduct thorough post-election audits and certify their results.”

Election offices take different approaches to collect mail-in ballots.

In some counties, the U.S. Postal Service delivers mail to election offices, but in others, elections workers go to the post office to pick up mail.

Brett Vines, the spokesperson for Union County’s board of elections, says every day a bipartisan team of two workers goes to the post office in Monroe to pick up returned absentee ballots.

“We use a bipartisan team to ensure transparency in the process,” Vines said Monday.

Vines says the most ballots the office received on one day was 667 on Oct. 21. Now, they’re getting just over a handful daily, with eight ballots collected on Monday.

Vines says the same bipartisan team returns to the office, counts how many ballots they picked up, checks each return envelope to make sure it has the required voter and witness information.

State law says the latest an absentee ballot can be postmarked is Election Day. Vines says workers don’t assume each ballot was sent on time.

“Currently, we also check to make sure the envelope is postmarked on or before Nov. 3,” Vines said. “So far, less than 50 have been postmarked after Nov. 3.”

Mecklenburg County Elections Director Michael Dickerson said Monday that as of Nov. 6, his office had received 105 mail-in ballot envelopes with a late postmark.

Dickerson said “it’s very important right now” for election workers to look at the postmark.

“And that’s something that my board will double-check my staff with,” Dickerson said. “They will go through and look at the post on each one of those.”

Dickerson says his office received about 200 returned ballot envelopes on Monday. He says the process is the same every day — with election workers stamping the date the envelopes arrive and checking envelopes to see if there’s any missing information that voters need to correct by Thursday.

Dickerson says elections workers don’t make the final decision on whether a returned envelope is acceptable. He says workers separate the envelope into stacks: the ones that have all required information, envelopes that workers couldn’t quite decipher the postmark, and envelopes with a date postmarked after Election Day.

Elections workers take those stacks to board members at absentee ballot meetings.

“They look at everything,” Dickerson said. “We feel good about it because there are about two or three teams looking at each of these.”

Dickerson says his office sent out more than 190,000 absentee mail-in ballots, more than five times what they typically send out for an election.

“I expect we’ll get some back this week too,” he said.

Each county board of election must meet on Friday to complete the process of certifying their election results.