By Rhiannon Fionn-Bowman and Kay Whatley
While many voters already have their voting plan set, they may still have questions. Here is information for North Carolina voters to assist in finding answers, including who to call for assistance.
Register or Check Your Registration
First, verify your voter registration and personal information is up to date with the NC State Board of Elections (BOE) at www.ncsbe.gov/registering/checking-your-registration. The last day to register to vote online or by mail was October 9, 2020. If you’re not already registered, your last opportunity to register is during early voting at early voting locations where you can both register* and vote.
The dates for North Carolina early voting are October 15-31, 2020. Times may vary by location. Critical note: You can only vote in your home county. Use this link to find the early voting locations and their open/close times by county: vt.ncsbe.gov/ossite.
If you fail to register to vote by October 31, 2020 at an early voting site, you will not be able to vote on the next, and final, opportunity to vote in this election: Tuesday, November 3, 2020 (Election Day).
* When registering to vote at an early voting site, you will need to bring an ID or paperwork that confirms your current address. These include:
- A copy of a current utility bill, bank statement, government check, paycheck, or other government document showing the voter’s name and address
- North Carolina driver’s license
- Other photo identification issued by a government agency. Any government-issued photo ID is acceptable, so long as the card bears the voter’s current name and current address.
- A current college/university photo identification card paired with proof of campus habitation
Voting by Mail
In North Carolina, you must officially request an absentee ballot; the government will not automatically send an absentee ballot to you. Request your absentee ballot online via votebymail.ncsbe.gov/app/home. Once you request your ballot, sign up for BallotTrax, a service that will send you notifications via emails or texts, or both – you choose – on the progress of your personalized ballot which has a barcode on it to allow for tracking. northcarolina.ballottrax.net/voter.
To avoid issues, follow the directions on your absentee ballot very carefully. You must have a witness sign, verifying that they witnessed you sign the outside envelope in which you insert your absentee ballot. Your witness must also write down their address when they sign. Your witness does not have to see your ballot, and really shouldn’t. They only need to witness you sign the outside of the envelope.
If you are registered and your registration is up to date, you can still request an absentee ballot. The deadline for requesting an absentee ballot is October 27 – the request must be in your county’s BOE office by the time it closes that day. If you want to vote by mail you should hurry given concerns about slowed mail and the huge uptick in mail-in voting this year.
Why hurry? It takes time for the county Boards of Elections to process and mail your blank ballot. Then you must complete it and mail it back, return it in person to your county BOE office, or drop it off at an early voting location during regular hours. When you drop off your absentee ballot in person you must essentially “check in” when you drop off your absentee ballot in person; you can’t just toss it in a box or through the door. So, wear a mask and prepare to wait in line.
In the event there is a problem with your ballot – like a missing signature or no witness address or signature – then it will take time for your county BOE to contact you in an effort to “cure,” i.e. fix, your ballot; however, that process is essentially on pause at present because of a lawsuit in federal court.
ONE FIRST CLASS POSTAGE STAMP, like a Forever Stamp, will cover the postage for an absentee ballot.
ALL VOTES ARE COUNTED! Even after election night on November 3, the county Boards of Election continue counting absentee ballots. However, if you want your vote to show up in the tally on Election Day, then you want your county to have received your absentee ballot by 5pm on November 2 – the day before Election Day. To be counted in the final tally, if you are mailing your absentee ballot it must be postmarked – not mailed, postmarked(!) – by 5pm on Election Day.
Visit the NC State Board of Election’s new website for more information on the state’s election process: NCSBE.gov.
In-person Early Voting and Election Day Voting
No picture ID is needed to vote in North Carolina.
Every eligible voter has the right to vote safely in-person. Voting sites and election workers will be prepared to help protect against the transmission of COVID-19, including:
- Enforcing social distancing at polling places and early voting sites
- Providing hand sanitizer and masks for voters and election workers who do not bring their own
- Providing gloves and face shields for election workers
- Erecting barriers between election workers and voters at check-in tables
- Providing single-use pens in counties that use hand-marked paper ballots and Q-tips for voters who use ballot-marking devices
- Frequently cleaning surfaces and equipment in polling places and early voting sites
Assistance is available for those in need of help or facing fear or intimidation.
According to Attorney Aylett Colston, every voting site in North Carolina offers curbside voting for voters who are unable to enter the voting place without physical assistance due to age or disability. “Disability” means you:
- Are unable to enter the polling place due to age or physical or mental disability, such as agoraphobia;
- Have a medical condition that puts you at increased risk of COVID-19;
- Should not wear a mask due to a medical or behavioral condition or disability; or
- Are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19.
Curbside voters must sign an affidavit affirming that they are unable to enter the voting place to cast their ballot. For more information on curbside voting, read www.ncsbe.gov/voting/help-voters-disabilities/curbside-voting.
According to the NC Board of Elections, “Curbside voting is offered at each Election Day polling place and one-stop early voting site. Signs should be in place to direct voters to the curbside voting location.”
Legality of certain voting-related actions
It is a felony to vote twice, and you will get caught if you try. The long/short is that the North Carolina voting system is secure and if you vote twice it is a felony. If you do manage to vote twice, which is unlikely, expect your county Board of Election office to send an investigator to your home.
Also, it is illegal to show up at the polls to watch others vote. Both major political parties will have official watchers at every polling location – as they do in every election – who have followed the rules and been approved to be poll watchers. If you show up and try to watch and have not been approved to do so, you could be arrested.
Finally, as exciting as it is to vote, please note that it is illegal to take pictures of your ballot. Your vote is supposed to be private – as are the votes of others who may appear in your photos inadvertently.
Oh, one more thing: If you vote in person, wear a mask because the Covid-19 global pandemic rages on. As importantly, double check your ballot before you leave to make sure your vote is accurate.
Problems at the Polls?
If you witness something going down that you feel is a violation of voter rights, voter intimidation, or disruption, call the emergency number 866-OUR-VOTE (866-687-8683) and let them come out and be the official witness; they know the law and what to do.
Note that in North Carolina, 888 may also be used (888-687-8683), as it reaches a NC election protection coalition that works in conjunction with the national group.
This is the main organization that voting advocates are encouraging people to contact. Follow them on Twitter or visit their website at 866ourvote.org for more information. The organization is run by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. Follow them on Twitter or visit lawyerscommittee.org.
If you witness violence or harassment at or near a polling location, get to safety and call 9-1-1 — as you would for any violent crime in progress.
Ed. Notes: Thank you to Aylett Colston for contributing voting-related information to this article.
Article originally published October 13, 2020. Updated October 15 with additional information on election protection phone number. Moved to top of news feed during early voting weeks.