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With demand for mail-in ballots rising, here’s how to request, vote absentee in 2020

With roughly one month until the Rowan County Board of Elections can begin sending them out, requests for mail-in ballots are surging.

By Friday, 1,150 requests had been submitted, and Rowan County Board of Elections staff say they’ve received about 100 requests per day. The request numbers represent a significant increase from the roughly 200 people who asked for a mail-in ballot by the same date in 2016, the prior presidential election. Rowan County Board of Elections Director Brenda McCubbins said the number requested is also more than the date when ballots were first sent out in 2016.

This year, Sept. 4 is the date on which mail-in absentee ballots can be sent to voters. And while voting by mail is just one method to cast a ballot, it’s expected to be more popular than ever because of the COVID-19 pandemic and associated social distancing recommendations.

North Carolina is on track to beat its mail-in request total and is currently five times greater than the same date in 2016, according to Old North State Politics, a blog created by Catawba College professor Michael Bitzer. The state’s largest population counties, Wake and Mecklenburg, are Nos. 1 and 2, respectively, in absentee requests submitted. And some counties, including Chatham, Orange and Brunswick, have already beaten their 2016 mail-in absentee request totals.

For voters interested, here are steps to cast a mail-in ballot in 2020.

  1. Initiate the request: This can be as simple as downloading a ballot request from rowancountync.gov/elections or asking for the form via email by sending a message to rowan.boe@rowancountync.gov . People who email a request are asked to provide a phone number and address in addition to their full name. If a voter does not have access to a computer, he or she can call the Rowan County Board of Elections at 704-216-8140 to ask for a request form.
  2. Complete the request: The request form asks for information that includes the person’s first middle and last name; date of birth; driver’s license number, ID number or last four digits of their social security number; current residential address; address where the ballot should be sent; voter signature and near relative or legal guardian signature (if applicable). A near relative or legal guardian can request a ballot on behalf of a voter. This year, a request form can be emailed, faxed, hand-delivered or mailed via the U.S. Postal Service or other delivery service to the Rowan County Board of Elections, 1935 Jake Alexander Boulevard West, Suite D10, Salisbury, NC 28147.
  3. Receive and complete the ballot: Starting Sept. 4, the Rowan County Board of Elections will send out ballots. Staff aim to have requests processed within 24 hours of receipt. All ballots received so far have been processed, McCubbins said during a Board of Elections meeting last week. For the 2020 election only, only one witness signature is required on the return envelope rather than the two in prior elections. In the presence of one witness, the voter should mark the ballot. The N.C. Board of Elections says a witness should not observe so closely that he or she is able to see what the voter marked. Alternatively, if the voter is not able to mark the ballot, it should be marked in accordance with the voter’s instructions. Certain people, including candidates for political office, nursing home or hospital employees or someone who holds a political office are prohibited from being a witness. A full list of prohibited witnesses is available at: ncsbe.gov/Voting-Options/Absentee-Voting. A notary public is allowed to be a witness, but he or she cannot charge a fee for doing so. After observing the voter marking the ballot, the witness must complete and sign the envelope in the designated place.
  4. Send in the completed ballot: Once the ballot is marked and witnessed, the voter or person assisting the voter must seal the ballot in the container-return envelope and complete the outside of the envelope. The voted ballot must be returned to the county board of elections no later than 5 p.m. on Election Day, with ballots received afterward only considered timely if they are received by mail no later than 5 p.m. on Nov. 6. A voter or near relative may return it to the Rowan County Board of Elections in person as well as by mail. The Rowan County Board of Elections recommends voters ensure their envelope is postmarked if it’s sent close to the deadline. Ballots cannot be returned to the person’s precinct polling place.

Addressing questions about mail-in voting security, the N.C. Board of Elections last week released a document with a series of reasons why mail-in absentee voting is safe.

Those reasons included: ballots are only sent to registered voters who requested them, fraudulently completing the form is a felony, local boards of elections review ballots and envelopes to ensure legal compliance, data on who has requested ballots is confidential until Election Day to reduce the ability of third parties to tamper with ballots, the State Board of Elections has a dedicated team of investigators that looks into election fraud and the board conducts post-election audits to catch inconsistencies.

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