Election officials in North Carolina say that concerns about mail-in voting are largely unfounded despite politically motivated allegations related to some ballots in Pennsylvania.
You may have heard the allegation that military ballots marked for President Trump ended up in a ditch and that the FBI was investigating.
Did the FBI release a statement saying that 'multiple' military mail-in ballots were found thrown away in a ditch in Pennsylvania? No, that's not true: First,
The truth is that the FBI never said anything about Pennsylvania ballots. The US attorney for the Middle District of Pennsylvania did release an unusual statement last Thursday (Sept. 24th) that said that nine ballots that had been cast for Trump were found in a waste basket, but that statement was deleted from the Justice Department website hours later and an updated statement replaced it. Neither statement mentioned a ditch, but it's political season, and what starts as a rumor based loosely on fact often becomes a totally erroneous story--which is apparently the case this time. Officials now say there was confusion over how to handle 'naked ballots,' those that are not sealed in a required envelope. Pennsylvania is one of those states that requires two envelopes for mail-in ballots, an outer envelope and an inner sealed envelope with the ballot. (North Carolna has no such requirement.) By the way, it is no longer claimed that all nine ballots were for Trump, since two were still sealed.
So far, mail-in voting (offically absentee voting) is going well in North Carolina. There have been some problems with some of the returned ballots, but not that many. In Lincoln County, as of early Monday, there had been over 6,000 requests for absentee ballots. Almost 1,900 people had already voted by returning their ballots. They can either be mailed or taken to the Elections Office on Salem Church Road. Through last week, only 22 of those ballots had been found lacking and therefore won't count. Some voters failed to sign theirs (required) and others failed to get the proper witness signature and information. North Carolina still requires the signature of a witness AND the witness's address. Failure to include either will invalidate the ballot.
Other counties are also having heavy mail-in voting this year, and there have been a small number of ballots that were not valid for the same reasons. In Gaston County, over 3,000 people had voted, and about three percent of those ballots returned had problems. In Cleveland County, the rate of invalid ballots was a little over four percent.
State election officials say the errors can be fixed--but that's another reason why it's important, if you plan to vote by mail, that you vote early.
They suggest first that you take time to read everything that comes with your ballot. The information provided gives detail instructions.
The envelope in which ballots are returned includes locations for two signatures, one from the voter and one from the witness. Signatures in the wrong location on the return form can also be a problem.
Many states that allow voting by mail don't require a witness signature. North Carolina previously required two, but that has been cut to one this year.
voters will be able to fix the problem by returning an affidavit the voter signs affirming under penalty of a felony that they actually filled out the original ballot. Until recently, voters who submitted problem ballots had to vote again. The lack of witness information meant the ballot was essentially canceled, and a second ballot was sent to the voter to fill out, with a witness still required. The North Carolina State Board of Elections decided last Tuesday to change the system. If you return a ballot that is considered invalid, the Elections Office will try to contact you by the next business day to let you know; then you can fill out that affadavit to make your ballot count. By far the best advice is to get it right the first time, and vote as soon as possible if you're voting by mail.
You can actually request an absentee ballot until October 27th, but it must be returned to the Elections Office or mailed by 5 PM on Election Day. If you do vote late--close to the date of the election--take your ballot to the window at the post office to have it date stamped. Only those mailed in ballots that are received by the Elections Office by Election Day will be counted--unless they have been date and time stamped and were mailed before 5 PM on Election Day; then they will still be counted if received by Friday of that week.
Worries over the results of the election taking days or weeks to be clear are probably not realistic--at least not in North Carolina. In the old days a crowd would gather at the Elections Office to hear the results. That won't be allowed this year; the Elections Office is a polling place for a precinct. There's no need--as soon as the reports from the precincts are received, they are forwarded to the NCSBE and you can follow the results online that evening. Mail-in ballots are being entered weekly as the Elections Board meets. No tabulation of votes is being made until Election Night, but the only ballots still to be counted will be the few that come in the rest of that week that meet the requirements including having been mailed on time.
Early voting begins October 15th. Technically, Early Voting is called One-Stop Voting because during that period, you can both register and vote at the same time. Early voting and mail-in voting are both forms of absentee voting--which is any ballot not cast on Election Day November 3rd.
If you want to vote on Election Day, you must be registered by Friday October 9th. On Election Day, you must vote at the polling place for your precinct. During Early Voting, you can vote at any of the Early Voting locations in your county.
Lincoln County has changed the Election Day (Nov. 3rd) polling places for several precincts. The Salem precinct polling place has been permanently moved to the Elections Office. Other temporary moves for this election include:
Buffalo Shoals to North 321 Fire Department
Cowans Ford to Catawba Springs Elementary School
Denver to Rock Springs Elementary Schoool
Lowesville West to East Lincoln Middle School
Early voting begins Thursday October 15th and will continue through Saturday October 31st (Halloween Day). This year, Lincoln County will have four early voting locations--the Board of Elections Office on Salem Church Road, the Wiliam Lentz Gym at Betty Ross Park on S. Madison Street in Lincolnton, the East Lincoln Community Center on Optimist Club Road, and the new West Lincoln Branch Library on Westwinds Road just off Shoal Road near West Lincoln High School. The western location was changed this year; it was previously at the North Brook Community Center. All of those locations will be open from 8 AM until 7:30 PM Monday-Friday and 8 AM - 6 PM on Saturday except October 31st when they'll close at 3 PM. Unlike other area counties, Lincoln County will NOT have Sunday early voting.
You can find the Early Voting locations and times on the websites of the Catawba County Board of Elections and Gaston County Board of Elections as well as other information about the election including sample ballots.
Cleveland County voters can vote early at the LeGrand Center on E. Marion St. (US74-business) in Shelby, Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Kings Mountain, Boiling Springs Town Hall in Boiling Springs and Palm Tree United Methodist Church in Lawndale. All sites will be open 8 AM - 7:30 PM Monday - Friday, 8 AM - 3 PM on Saturdays and 1 - 5 PM on Sundays.
If you happen to be voting by mail, after you've returned your absentee ballot, you can track it on the NC State Board of Elections website. The NCSBE has ceated a new app that is called ballottrax. CLICK HERE to access it.
You can also use the NCSBE Voter Lookup to confirm your registration, see the location where you vote on Election Day, see sample ballots, and your voter history (when & where you voted) and track your absentee ballot to make sure it has been received by the Elections Office.