How to vote absentee-by-mail and protect your vote from fraud

Published September 3, 2020

By Andy Jackson

While we are not sure how many people will vote absentee in North Carolina this year, we do know that it will likely be several times larger than in any previous election. Voters have also seen the dangers of absentee ballot fraud, such as the recent case in New Jersey where a judge ordered a new election after 1-in-5 absentee ballots were found to be fraudulent.

Of course, nobody needs to tell North Carolinians about the dangers of absentee ballot fraud. We are familiar with the absentee ballot fraudthat caused the NC State Board of Elections (SBE) to toss out the results of the 2018 9th Congressional District race. We also know that absentee ballot fraud in Bladen County was more widespread than generally reported. By the admission of election officials, cases resulting in overturned elections or criminal convictions are just a small portion of all the absentee ballot fraud cases that happen in North Carolina.

However, most absentee ballots are safely voted. During the decade I lived in Korea, I voted absentee-by-mail nine times and all those ballots made it (I checked using the SBE’s voter lookup tool).

So, you can vote absentee without being subjected to fraud. In the rest of this article, I will go over the steps to take to vote absentee and share how you can protect yourself from absentee ballot fraud during each step.

Step one: Request a ballot

Unlike universal mail-in voting states, in North Carolina, you will only receive an absentee ballot if you request one. To request an absentee ballot, fill out the state absentee ballot request form and submit it to your county board of elections – there is a list of county boards on the form.

You may request an absentee ballot for a near relative (immediate family, including in-laws and stepfamily, plus grandparents or grandchildren). The only other people who can submit an absentee ballot request form are members of multipartisan assistance teams, board of elections volunteers who work on a bipartisan basis to assist voters.

By now, if you are a registered voter in North Carolina you have probably received an absentee ballot request form in the mail. They are not from the local boards of elections. Most of those forms, however, are legitimate and are from groups that want you to vote because they believe you will vote their way.

The deadline to request an absentee ballot is October 27, but you should submit your request well before then to make sure that you get your ballot in time to vote.

Protect your vote from fraud: If you receive an absentee ballot request form with your information (name, address, etc.) already filled in, don’t submit it; Prefilled forms are illegal in North Carolina as a form of protection from ballot harvesting operations. One group sent 80,000 such illegal requests this year. Also, confirm that the address on your form is to your county board of elections office.

The State Board of Elections will open an online absentee ballot request portal by September 1. If someone approaches you with an offer to use their electronic device to submit an absentee ballot request, don’t do it. By using their device, you will give them the two critical pieces of information they need to try to harvest your ballot: that there will be a ballot in your home and when it will be there.

Step 2: Mark the ballot and complete the Absentee Application and Certificate

Absentee ballots will be mailed by county boards of elections starting September 4.

Once you have received your ballot, mark it in the presence of a witness (normally two are required, but only one is needed for the 2020 general election). The witness should be able to see that you are marking the ballot but not be able to see for whom you are voting. If you cannot mark your ballot yourself, someone may mark it for you or help you mark it. By law, only a near relative can assist you if one is available, but you may request someone else to assist you, if a near relative is not available.

Generally, any adult can be a witness. People who cannot serve as witnesses include workers or managers of assisted living facilities (for that facility’s patients only), candidates, and political party officials.

Once you have marked your ballot, put it in the ballot container-return envelope that came with your ballot and seal the envelope. Then complete, sign, and date the voter certification portion of the Absentee Application and Certificate found on the back of the envelope. After that, have your witness complete, sign, and date the witness certification section. A notary can also serve as a witness.

Protect your vote from fraud: First, seal your ballot container-return envelope as soon as you put your marked ballot in it. You should be the only person who sees how you voted.

Also, one of the more common forms of absentee ballot fraud involves, not the taking of ballots, but the undue influence of voters while they are marking their ballots. If you, or someone you know, need assistance in marking a ballot, make sure that the person providing that assistance can be trusted to faithfully convey that person’s preferences.  If a near relative is not available to provide assistance, contact your county board of elections and request assistance from members of the local multipartisan assistance team.

Sample Absentee Application and Certificate on the back a ballot container-return envelope from the 2018 election. Only one witness is required for the 2020 general elections. Source: WUNC.

Step three: Submit your ballot

According to the SBE, you can submit your absentee ballot in one of four ways:

1.   By mail
2.  By commercial courier service (DHL, FedEx, or UPS)
3.  In-person at your county board of elections office
4.  In-person at an open early voting site in your county

If you submit by mail, your ballot must be postmarked by election day and received by your county board of elections by three days after the election. Voters should mail it at least 10 days before the November 3 election. The postage for an NC ballot is 55 cents or one forever stamp (although it will be delivered even with insufficient postage). While a postal worker in West Virginia recently pled guilty to absentee voting fraud, your party registration is hidden from view on both your absentee ballot request and your absentee ballot container envelope in North Carolina, making such fraud much less likely.

If you still have your ballot on you in the week before the election, you should use one of the other three methods to deliver it.

If you choose to deliver your absentee ballot in person during the early voting period, you are better off using the early voting procedure. Doing so allows you to avoid having your ballot rejected for various reasons, as about 10% of absentee ballots were in the March 2020 primary. If you vote in person, you will also be able to correct overvotes (voting for more candidates for an office than you are allowed to), something that you cannot do with absentee voting.

Protect your vote from fraud: The main thing here is to never, ever, hand your ballot (even if sealed in the ballot container-return envelope) to anyone other than to a county election official at the board of elections office or an early voting site (but not an election day precinct polling place), or a near relative; it is a felony for anyone else to possess your ballot.

While absentee ballot fraud is a real danger, you can significantly reduce the chances of becoming a victim by maintaining personal control of each step of the absentee voting process.