By Harley Nefe
Through Aug. 18, nearly 300,000 absentee ballot requests have been received by county boards of elections across North Carolina, with 77 days until election.
This number is a lot different from 2016, where by Aug. 23, 2016 (77 days until the election), there were 26,906 absentee ballot requests.
Watauga County Board of Elections Director Matt Snyder said they are getting between 80-100 absentee requests a day, which is very different from years past.
“I’m glad people are thinking ahead of time; they’re being prepared and ready to vote and not waiting until the last second,” Snyder said. “I think that is very wise on everyone’s part.”
The deadline to request an absentee ballot is Oct. 27; however, to avoid any problems caused by U.S. Postal Service delays, state and county boards of elections are encouraging individuals to not wait until the last day to request them.
With the rate of requests, Watauga County Board of Elections is targeting about 10,000 people will vote by mail.
That number is about a third of the amount of people the Watauga County Board of Elections expects to vote in this election, Snyder said. Their goal is to have 75% of Watauga voters vote before Election Day, either through absentee by mail or One Stop Early Voting.
“We know that there are a lot of people who do not feel comfortable about coming out to public areas and potentially having to wait in line or be around a large group of people,” Snyder said. “We think that voting by mail, which has always been an option in North Carolina, is a great solution for folks who have that concern because we want to make sure that everyone who wants to vote gets to vote.”
Snyder said they calculated on their end, it will take about 1,667 hours to process every absentee by mail voter, which is 10 minutes per voter. This process includes receiving the initial request, processing the ballots to go out and then receiving the ballots when they return.
There’s also a very specific three-step process that absentee mail-in ballots are handled by, which includes the Board of Elections receiving the ballots and checking them in the qualifying submissions and to see that they were signed by both, the voter and a witness. Then the Board views them and approves. Once the Board approves them, then they open the envelopes and are put into ballot calculators like on Election Day.
No special circumstance or reason is needed to request, receive and vote by absentee ballot. Any North Carolina registered voter may request and receive a mail-in absentee ballot for the 2020 general election. Absentee ballots will not be sent unless they are requested.
The form to request an absentee ballot can be found here: http://www.wataugacounty.org/App_Pages/Dept/BOE/Forms/NCAbsenteeBallotRequestForm_0801_FINAL.pdf.
The Watauga County Board of Elections will begin sending ballots on Sept. 4 to those who request them. If someone has already requested a ballot and does not receive it between Sept. 15 and 20, they can call the office at 828-265-8061 to ask about the status of the request. More information can also be found on the Watauga County Board of Elections website at http://www.wataugacounty.org/App_Pages/Dept/BOE/home.aspx.
“We want to make sure that if anybody has any questions about the process, that they feel free to call our office, and we would be happy to answer any questions that they might have,” Snyder said.
North Carolina voters have three options for voting: mail-in absentee, in-person during the Early Voting period, and in-person on Election Day. Significant health safeguards will be in place for voters who cast their ballot in person.
The Early Voting period for the general election is Oct. 15 through Oct. 31. Eligible individuals may register and vote at the same time using same-day registration during the Early Voting period at any one-stop location in the county.
Election Day is Nov. 3. Polls are open from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., and voters should vote at their assigned precinct.
Snyder said a lot of the polling sites will be changing this year to allow people to get into larger spaces to allow for social distancing. They will be mailing out notices about where the polling sites have changed. Once the sites and information has been finalized, they will update their website.
The Watauga County Board of Elections also encourages everyone to check their registration status by going to their state board of elections website where they can look up if they’re registered and with what information. If someone needs to update their information, they should do that before the election, and if they haven’t registered, they should do that as well.
The cut off for voter registration is Oct. 9. If someone misses that cut off, they can register and vote during the One Stop Early Voting period.
“We encourage everybody to participate in this election and to find a way that they feel most comfortable with,” Snyder said. “And we would be happy to help them with that process.”