ELECTIONS 2022: absentee voting

Mail-in ballots to be made available Friday

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Mail-in absentee ballots for November’s general midterm election will be available, upon request, to voters starting this Friday, Sept. 9.

Pandora Paschal, the director of the Chatham County Board of Elections, said she and her staff have been preparing to mail out the ballots over the last week or so.

“We’ll be mailing them out by the 9th,” Paschal told the News + Record.

Mail-in voting originated in 1896 in Vermont but has since spread across the country, becoming an integral part of the U.S. election system.

Paschal said at first, mail-in voting was reserved for deployed military and those whose medical ailments wouldn’t allow them to make it to the polls in person. That’s changed over the last few years.

“Now anybody is eligible to vote by mail, and you don’t have to have an excuse,” Paschal said, for not going to the polls in person.

Voters who have a near relative can request a ballot themselves either on the N.C. Board of Elections website or at their local board of elections office. According to the state board of elections, “near relative” includes:

• spouse

• brother

• sister

• parent

• grandparent

• child

• grandchild

• mother-in-law

• father-in-law

• daughter-in-law

• son-in-law

• step-parent

• stepchild

Paschal said voters who vote by mail must have two witnesses to watch them cast their ballot and sign off on it.

“What the witnesses are signing is that they witnessed that person voting on that ballot,” she said. “So they should they should see the person voting the ballot, but they aren’t supposed to look at how the person is voting, because that takes away their privacy.”

Ballots can then be sent to the county board of elections office by mail or taken to the elections office in Pittsboro at 984 Thompson St. Suite D. Ballots mailed and postmarked by 5 p.m. on Election Day — this year on Nov. 8 — will be accepted three days after Election Day.

“You can also take the ballots to any early voting site,” Paschal said. “You cannot, however, take the ballot to the precinct on Election Day — it has to be during early voting.”

Early in-person voting will start on Oct. 20 and will go until 3 p.m. on Nov. 3.

Voting by mail played a crucial role in 2020 during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. According the U.S. Census Bureau, 43% of voters utilized the mail-in ballot system in the 2020 election, outpacing early voters (26%) and Election Day voters (31%).

But 2020’s election featured misinformation regarding absentee voting by mail. Former President Donald Trump and other politicians repeatedly falsely made claims of voter fraud via the mail-in ballot system, accusing mail-in voting of being illegitimate. Even before the 2020 election, NPR reported the former president said mail-in ballots would cause fraud that would be “an embarrassment to our country.”

One of those claims is some people voted twice in 2020 — once by mail, and once in-person. Paschal said there are many checks and balances outlined in North Carolina’s elections laws to combat voting twice in federal, state and local races.

“Whenever a person requested absentee ballot, the software at the early vote site can see whether or not that ballot has been returned,” she said. “If their ballot has not been returned, and they go to early voting, they can vote a ballot there. They will just void out the other request.”

The Chatham County Board of Elections — which consists of three Democrats and two Republicans — also uses an auditing process to check to see whether there are discrepancies in the ballots or in the number of votes cast.

“We do audits to make sure that the system will show us if somebody’s in there twice, so we can go look and determine to see whether or not they have cast a ballot,” Paschal said.

Each ballot also has its own identification number, used to track and identify potential ballots for review during the auditing process.

“In the event that they vote on Election Day, we will go in and pull that ballot and that way, they’ll only have one ballot counting,” she said. “If that happens, we don’t assume voter fraud. We just don’t know why they did it, but we will retrieve the ballot and take those votes away.”

The board will hold several absentee meetings for the purpose of counting mail-in ballots. However, votes are not tallied for any candidates during those session — it is only for counting the number of ballots turned into the elections office.

“The ballots are never tallied until Election Day,” Paschal said. “Now the board will meet at 2 p.m. on Election Day to turn those keys on the absentee machine, and they’ll close the polls on those machines. Then they’ll tally those votes, but those results will not be released until 7:30 p.m. on Election Day.”

If people are still skeptical regarding the mail-in voting process, Paschal said she encourages people to attend the board’s meetings, since they’re open to the public for viewing.

“Come to the meetings and see what’s going on for yourself,” she said. “It’s an open process.”

Meetings will also be live streamed on the Chatham County Board of Elections website at www.chathamcountync.gov/government/departments-programs-a-h/elections/board-of-elections-members-meetings.

Mail-in ballot requests can be placed on the N.C. Board of Elections website at votebymail.ncsbe.gov/app/home until Nov. 1. There is also a link to the site on the Chatham County Board of Elections’ website at www.chathamcountync.gov/government/departments-programs-a-h/elections/absentee-voting.

Reporter Taylor Heeden can be reached at theeden@chathamnr.com and on Twitter at @HeedenTaylor.

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