BRUNSWICK COUNTY, N.C. (WECT) - Under normal circumstances, it would take one temporary worker to help open and process absentee ballot requests in Brunswick County—this year, it’s taking many more on top of the Brunswick County Board of Elections staff.
For the last several weeks, those workers have been opening thousands of requests and entering data into the county and state system.
On Friday, more than 618,000 absentee ballots will be mailed to North Carolina voters, with more than 14,000 going to Brunswick County and nearly 20,000 headed to voters from New Hanover County.
“In a typical presidential election year, we would see an increase in absentee voting, but definitely not at the scale we’re at right now,” county director Sara Knotts said.
In addition to the extra staff, Knotts said they’ve brought in additional equipment, such as a letter folder, to process the ballots more efficiently.
Not only do they have extra paperwork, Knotts said they have been getting additional questions, leading to further need for additional hands.
“We have more temporary staff helping answer the phones because we are getting a lot of questions like, ’How does absentee voting work? I got a random request in my mailbox, what do I do with that? Is that legal?’ The phones have been very busy, and people are really curious about absentee voting with COVID going on. I think that’s on top of mind for a lot of people,” she said.
On top of everything, Knotts said they are also having to make accommodations because of the pandemic—spacing workers throughout the building and even utilizing hallways and training rooms.
As the first batch of ballots goes out on Sept. 4, Knotts said she hopes voters will have patience, as it may be a few days before they make their way through the mail.
If a voter still hasn’t received his or her ballot in more than a week or two, she said to give the board of elections a call.
She also advises voters to send back their ballot in plenty of time—first, because that will ensure the ballot has time to travel through the mail, but also it gives the board a chance to address any issues that might arise, such as a missing signature.
Absentee ballots must be signed by the voter and witnessed by at least one person, and must only be returned by the voter.
Additionally, ballots that come in after Election Day by the deadline that don’t have a postmark, which does happen from time to time, will not be counted.
If a voter receives an absentee ballot, but has concerns about mailing it, Knotts said that ballot can be taken in person by the voter or their near relative to a one-stop early voting site, or to the board of elections.
Or, if a voter receives a ballot but decides they would rather vote in person, they can simply discard that ballot and vote.
However, voters who have sent their ballot back should not attempt to vote again in person unless that ballot has been canceled because of a known issue identified by the county board, or it has not been processed by Election Day. Even then, they may be required by a precinct official to vote provisionally so an evaluation of the voter’s record can be done.
Those who have yet to request an absentee ballot still can, and have the new option of using the state’s online request portal as well as the new tracking feature that will be available in the coming days.
Knotts said she hopes voters can have confidence in the system, because of the many safeguards that exist to ensure a fair and accurate election.
“Absentee voting [in North Carolina] has a lot of security features automatically built in,” she said. “So to request a ballot, you do have to provide a date of birth and the last four digits of your social or your driver’s license number. If those don’t match, you don’t get a ballot, [it’s] that simple. Once we get the request, it’s attached to your record. So it’s attached to a voter record.”
So is the returned ballot. Once it is received, that vote is cast and the voter would be removed from the poll book, meaning even if they showed up during early voting or on Election Day, they would not receive a ballot.
When in doubt, Knotts said, elections officials are more than willing to answer questions.
“If you’re not sure about something, call your board of elections,” she said. “I know I can speak for most counties around us—we are happy to answer voter questions...that are concerned, don’t understand, ’Did your ballot go out?’ Any of those things...please just call and ask.”