Voting used to be just one day a year – the first Tuesday of November. In 2020 in North Carolina, you can also vote on an absentee ballot for no reason at all; you can vote early for two weeks, even on the weekends, or do it the old-fashioned way and vote on November 3rd.
If you choose to vote an absentee ballot you must request a ballot or retrieve one online. Many voters receive unsolicited applications for the absentee ballot in the mail. The unsolicited absentee ballot request forms sent by the Center for Voter Information and the North Carolina GOP appear to be legitimate, according to an election board official quoted by WCNC, but you can double-check with a few quick tests.
- First, does the form match the one published online by the North Carolina Board of Elections? (Here’s a link.)
- Second, is the return address the correct address for your county’s board of elections? (Click that link above and see if the addresses match.)
- Third, has any part of the form already been filled out? If so, you’ll have to toss it. If the form you received in the mail passes those three tests, then it’s legitimate, and you can fill it out and send it in for an absentee ballot. Your request for an application must be postmarked no later than October 27.
The only people who can fill out the ballot are the voter, a near relative or legal guardian of said voter, or a member of a multi-partisan assistance team, according to attorney Antoine Marshall, who recently held a seminar on voting for other North Carolina attorneys. You cannot get help from a political party.
Your absentee ballot voting must be witnessed by someone over the age of 18 and not a candidate unless they are a near relative. The witness then must sign your ballot envelope and also give their address.
You can mail in your ballot, which must be postmarked by November 3rd (with a first-class stamp) or you can take it to your early voting site (see below) or to your County Board of Elections.
If you request an absentee ballot but later decide to vote in person you may do so. But throw away the absentee.
Unlike some states, North Carolina does not wait until Election Day to process absentee ballots. They start as soon are they are received. The State Board of Elections offices states on its website that, “the county board of elections staff reviews each container-return envelope for completeness. Beginning five weeks before Election Day, the county board of elections holds weekly absentee board meetings where the approved ballots are inserted into a voting machine. However, results are not tabulated or reported until Election Day.”
North Carolina has a two-week period of early voting and you can vote on weekends during that time frame. The early voting period is underway, it started on October 15th and ends on October 31st. You can early vote even if you are not registered as early voting allows you to register and vote all at the same time. You can early vote at any precinct in your county. And you can even return an absentee ballot at your early voting site. However, only you, a near relative or legal guardian may hand- deliver the envelope containing your absentee ballot.
Election Day Voting
You can vote in person on November 3rd if you are registered. The polls will be open from 6:30 am to 7:30 pm. If you are in line when the polls close you can still cast your ballot. On that day, you must vote at your designated precinct.
DON’T BE DENIED YOUR RIGHT TO VOTE
If you are told you can’t vote do not walk away. Ask to vote a provisional ballot. A provisional ballot is used when questions arise about a voter’s qualifications to vote or their eligibility to vote. The typical reasons for a person to use a provisional ballot is if there is no record of registration, an unreported move, they have previously been removed from the voter rolls, they are at an incorrect precinct, have an incorrect party ballot, there is a jurisdiction dispute or they have already voted.
If you ask for a provisional ballot you will be guided to an election official at a help station where you can vote and seal your ballot in an envelope. You will receive a personal identification number (pin) to use to check the status of your provisional ballot. The county board of election staff will research the voter’s provisional issues and determine if the entire ballot or just a portion of it is counted. No election results are certified until the status of all the provisional ballots are determined.
Under Watchful Eyes
Poll Watchers can challenge your right to cast a ballot. Poll Watchers can closely monitor the administration of the election to ensure that votes are being counted correctly and they can even count the voters as they come in to alert candidates or parties about who has voted, attorney Marshall says this helps candidates or parties with their get out the vote effort.
Poll Watchers are selected by the county party chairpersons. Two are designated per precinct and there are 10 at-large observers. They must be registered to vote in the county where they are working and they cannot be a candidate. A person called a “runner” can also be appointed to receive voting lists or counts to return them to the candidates or parties.
Poll Watchers are different from Poll greeters. Greeters, who are last-minute campaigners, have to remain at least 50 feet from the front door of the precinct and cannot come inside.
Covid-19 has changed the way we do many things voting might be one of those. However, there are ways to vote safely and it is important to vote to have your voice heard.