What To Know About Absentee Voting In 2020

Sep 11, 2020

COVID-19 has changed the way we work, the way we travel -- and the way we vote. More than 710,000 North Carolina voters have requested an absentee ballot for the November election. That’s compared to 46,000 requested ballots for the 2016 election.

WFAE's "All Things Considered" host Gwendolyn Glenn and reporter Alexandra Watts talk about how to vote absentee in the upcoming general election.

Gwendolyn Glenn: Alexandra, so let’s start with the first step: How do you get an absentee ballot?

Alexandra Watts: A voter starts by filling out a request form, which they can get from the State Board of Elections website. The website has forms that voters can print and fill out. It can be returned by either email, fax or mailing it back to your county Board of Elections.

There is also a new portal system on the Board of Elections website where voters can fill everything out.

Glenn: Are all voters allowed to ask for an absentee ballot, or do only some qualify?

Watts: Any registered voter in the state can request a mail-in ballot.

Glenn: Alexandra, when the voter gets their absentee ballot and are ready to fill it out, what do they need?

Watts: So, in North Carolina, it’s more of a "who" you need rather than "what" you need.

Voters have to have a witness. That witness does not have to be there when you fill out your ballot, but has to sign a form that comes with the ballot verifying that the voter is who they say they are.

Glenn: This is a change. It used to be two witnesses but the state legislature made changes for this year only that voters now just need one witness.

Watts: Yes. I had a conversation with Karen Brinson Bell, the North Carolina State Board of Elections’s executive director, and she said the following about witnesses.

Karen Brinson Bell: “The requirement that we have is that the person be 18 years of age or older in order to be a witness. They do not have to be a registered voter. They cannot be a candidate. And when someone's in a care facility, like a nursing home or a rehab center or something like that, then they cannot be an employee of that care facility.”

Glenn: After you have filled out your ballot — witness and all — the next step is casting your vote. How do you turn in your absentee ballot?

Watts: Well, you can mail your ballot — and as long as it’s postmarked by Election Day, Nov. 3, or received before 5 p.m. that following Friday, Nov. 6 — it’s valid. Elections officials say to be safe, ballots should be mailed by Oct. 27. Voters can also turn in their ballot early at their county’s Board of Elections office from now until 5 p.m. on Election Day.

Voters can also drop it off at a one-stop early voting site. Early voting runs from Oct. 15 through Oct. 31. It’s important to note that absentee ballots will not be accepted at polling places on Election Day.

Glenn: And this process we just went over, a lot of North Carolinians are going to be doing these steps for this election. What else has changed this year?

Watts: The number of absentee ballot requests. Here’s the State Board of Elections' Brinson Bell talking about that rise.

Brinson Bell: “Traditionally, North Carolina has about a 4-5% participation by mail. But we knew coronavirus and the pandemic were certainly going to change that for North Carolinians. And so we've been projecting that we will see 30-40% participation through the absentee-by-mail voting option."

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