N.C. absentee ballots without witness signature have to be replaced with new ballot

Absentee ballots in North Carolina without a witness signature on the ballot envelope will not be counted, and mail-in voters that made the mistake will have to submit a new ballot.

The state Board of Elections issued new guidance to the counties Monday afternoon as part of a complicated legal battle between Republicans and Democrats over North Carolina’s absentee ballot rules.

The state board said in a news release that county boards of elections across North Carolina are now contacting voters whose absentee ballot return envelopes were not properly completed to inform them of the steps necessary to ensure their votes are counted.

North Carolina’s ballot curing process had been on hold since October 4 because of the ongoing litigation.

“The State Board has directed the county boards of elections to immediately begin reaching out to voters with problems with their absentee ballots,” said Karen Brinson Bell, executive director of the N.C. State Board of Elections. “Our main focus continues to be ensuring all eligible voters can successfully and safely cast ballots in this important election.”

State Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger of Rockingham County has been part of the legal fight against changes that a federal judge ruled may be unconstitutional.

“The chaos over the past month was entirely avoidable. Attorney General Stein and Gov. Cooper’s Board of Elections rewrote absentee ballot laws after voting had already started,” Berger said in a statement. “Thankfully, they’ve abandoned their attempt to change the witness requirement law, and we can now move on with allowing voters to fix their absentee ballots.”

As of 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, nearly 2 million North Carolinians, or 25 percent of registered voters, had cast ballots in the 2020 general election. In-person early voting continues through October 31, and Election Day is November 3.

An estimated 10,000 ballots statewide have deficiencies that require a cure, the state board said.

Under the new guidance for curing absentee ballots, the following actions will be taken by county boards of elections:

  • If a voter returns a ballot without a witness signature or assistant signature (if the voter received assistance), a new ballot will be issued by mail to the voter. The first ballot will be spoiled. If the voter already voted in person during the early voting period, a new ballot will not be sent.
  • If a voter returns a ballot with a deficiency other than a missing witness or assistant signature, the county board will send the voter a certification to sign and return to ensure the ballot is counted. Such deficiencies include envelopes not signed by the voter or signed by the voter in the wrong place, as well as envelopes missing the printed name or address of the witness or assistant (if the voter received assistance). Any “Absentee Cure Certification” must be received by the voter’s county board of elections no later than 5 p.m. Thursday, November 12.
  • County boards are expected to contact any voter with an absentee ballot deficiency in writing within one business day to inform the voter of the deficiency and how to correct it.

The State Board of Elections on Monday directed counties to accept absentee ballots received in the mail through 5 p.m. November 12, provided that they are postmarked on or before Election Day, November 3.

Berger noted that North Carolina’s legislative leaders have asked the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals to issue an injunction against the later deadline, and “enforce the federal judge’s conclusion that the extension deadline ‘should be enjoined’ because it is ‘likely unconstitutional.'”

“Therefore, an injunction would maintain the status quo and avoid changing election rules after the election has already begun,” Berger said.

With 15 days prior to the election, the state board also issued a list of tips for voters:

If voting by mail, please return your completed ballot as soon as possible. You may place your ballot in the mail. You may also hand-deliver it to your county board of elections office until 5 p.m. November 3 or drop it off at an early voting site in your county during the early voting period, which ends October 31.

If voting by mail, please remember to follow instructions carefully and complete all required sections of the absentee ballot return envelope. These include the voter’s signature, the printed name and address of the witness and the signature of the witness. If the voter receives assistance, the assistant’s information must also be filled out on the envelope.

Voters who requested an absentee ballot by mail but have not yet returned it may vote in person if they prefer, either during the early voting period or on Election Day. Simply discard the absentee by mail ballot. It will be spoiled after you vote in person.

Voters may determine whether their ballot was accepted by signing up for BallotTrax: https://northcarolina.ballottrax.net/voter/. Absentee and in-person early voters may also check whether their ballot was accepted through the State Board’s Voter Search tool: https://vt.ncsbe.gov/RegLkup/VoterInfo/. Finally, a voter may contact their county board of elections.

In-person early voting ends October 31. For county-by-county sites and schedules, go here: https://vt.ncsbe.gov/OSSite/.

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Sam Walker was news director for OBXToday.com, Beach 104, 99.1 The Sound, Big 94.5 WCMS and Z 92.3 from August 2011 to March 2022.