Elections offices deal with sticking envelopes, other issues as record absentee votes start pouring in

With more than 830,000 absentee by mail ballots already sent out to North Carolina voters, it's no surprise to elections officials that there are some issues
Updated: Sep. 16, 2020 at 6:56 PM EDT
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SOUTHEASTERN NORTH CAROLINA (WECT) - With more than 830,000 absentee by mail ballots already sent out to North Carolina voters, it hasn’t come as much of a surprise to elections officials that there have already been a handful of issues.

That includes a couple sticky situations—literally.

Rosalie Majkowski, a Pine Valley resident, said when she and her son went to mail their ballots back to the New Hanover County Board of Elections, they found the ballot return envelopes were already partially sealed.

“We went to open the envelopes and they wouldn’t open,” she said. "So I got a knife, and my son said, ‘Stop, because if you do anything, they might think it’s fraudulent, and they won’t accept your ballot.’”

Another voter reported their return envelope was actually stuck to the ballot itself, and despite trying carefully to remove it, the envelope tore and stuck to the ballot.

New Hanover elections director Rae Hunter-Havens said they’ve had a couple dozen reports of sticking envelopes out of the roughly 3,200 ballots that have come back.

“We did receive some phone calls in the days following that a few voters were reporting that the container return envelopes, and their ballot packages may have been sealed shut, or maybe partially sealed shut,” she said.

And New Hanover County isn’t the only place it has happened.

Both Pender and Columbus counties reported a handful of reports of sticking ballot envelopes, and while Bladen County staff didn’t know of any specific cases, this has been an issue in the past.

A spokesperson for the North Carolina State Board of Elections said they’d received a few calls about the issue from around the state, but they don’t think it is a widespread issue.

Brunswick County uses a different kind of return envelope that has a self-adhesive backing that is exposed like a sticker, explained director Sara Knotts.

It is unclear exactly what is causing the envelopes to stick.

Hunter-Havens postulated that it could have been caused by excess moisture from when the ballot packets were sealed, or even from rain and humidity the ballots were exposed to in transit to the voter.

Pender and Columbus county officials thought it was more likely the way their ballot packets were stuffed, but said there have been times water has damaged ballots in the past.

Majkowski said she was concerned, because given how significant the election is, she wanted to make sure her vote counted.

She and her son called and eventually went to the New Hanover County elections office, where their envelopes were inspected and they were allowed to sign and witness their ballots.

Hunter-Havens said that course of action is the best thing to do if a voter experiences any kind of issue with a ballot or return envelope.

“We’ve got ways that we can work with the voter to ensure that they can continue that process in a safe manner,” she said.

That goes for other situations beyond a sticky envelope, including a ballot that was marked incorrectly.

“There are different remedies in place that make sure that the voter’s ballot will be counted, and that their vote will be cast for the candidates they want to,” she said.

Hunter-Havens said it isn’t unusual for hiccups to occur, but with the record number of absentee ballot requests, the issues are magnified.

“Just due to the sheer volume of voters that are voting by mail, I think we’re starting to see some of these other things,” she said.

As of Sept. 15, New Hanover has had 26,935 ballot requests. Brunswick County isn’t too far behind with 18,570.

Ultimately, Hunter-Havens said the best course of action is to start the absentee ballot process as early as possible so any issues can be handled ahead of Election Day, and voters should feel comfortable coming to their board of elections office with any concerns with their ballot.

“If they have any questions about the process, you know, certainly call our office or call our absentee by mail processing center.”

Majkowski echoed that advice, and encouraged voters to do whatever it takes to cast their ballot.

“Vote—that’s the most important thing,” she said, “and if you feel there’s a problem with your envelope, call the board of elections and they’ll advise you.”

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