Black voters’ mail-in ballots in NC rejected twice as often as whites. Why?

The most common flaw with absentee ballots is having incomplete witness information.
The most common flaw with absentee ballots is having incomplete witness information.(WBTV)
Published: Sep. 24, 2020 at 5:50 PM EDT
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RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Mail-in ballots cast by Black voters during the past three weeks have been rejected more than twice as often as those from white voters, a data analysis found.

State Board of Elections data Thursday indicate 203,307 of those ballots have been cast, with 97.5 percent of them categorized as being either accepted or cured.

According to the data, 33,390 of those ballots are from Black voters with 1,744 of those — 5.2 percent — bearing some other classification besides accepted or cured.

White voters have cast 148,969 ballots with 2,939 of those not being accepted — a rejection rate of 1.9 percent.

“I was somewhat surprised, but it was not something that was unanticipated,” said Irving Joyner, a professor of law at North Carolina Central University. “While we were surprised that that trend continued, it was one that to some extent, we kind of expected, particularly when you are dealing with a population that does not have a history of dealing with mail-in ballots.”

It’s not just an issue in North Carolina, said Aylett Colston, a Raleigh attorney and chair of the Raleigh-Apex NAACP’s political action committee.

Black voters were more than twice as likely to have their ballots rejected in the 2018 general elections in Florida and Georgia, with Hispanic voters also affected in Florida balloting.

Joyner says Black and Latinx voters generally tend to prefer to vote in person “so they can actually see their ballot being counted.”

“That’s clearly the safer way of dealing with an election,” he added.

But Colston said not to assume it’s solely due to a lack of familiarity with the vote-by-mail process.

“There are people from all different ethnicities and age groups who are doing it who have never done it before,” Colston said. “So I don’t want to say for sure we know why. But I don’t want to dismiss the issue out of hand. I think we have to keep an eye on the numbers that come in, and if there are larger numbers of voters, we’ll have a better sense of what the impact really is and if it’s different in different counties. We will have more of an idea as the ballots come in.”

The most common flaw with those ballots is having incomplete witness information, with 824 ballots turned down for that reason. Of those, 55 percent were cast by Black voters as opposed to 275 by whites. Witnesses must sign the ballot, write their addresses and print their names.

“You have young voters who are doing this for the very first time, and you have some of the folks who are elderly,” said Gerald Givens Jr., president of the Raleigh-Apex NAACP. “And sometimes this can be a cumbersome process of having to follow all the procedures and do everything just right.”

So, if you have a mistake on your ballot, how do you get it fixed?

This graphic provided by the Raleigh-Apex NAACP includes tips on making sure you fill out your absentee mail-in ballot correctly so that it will be counted.

Voters are urged to track the progress of their ballot online through the Ballottrax portal.

The state Board of Elections says the first step should be to contact your county elections board and request a new ballot.

But the correction process in our state could become easier.

That very issue is at the center of a dispute involving election and legislative leaders of both political parties.

Under an agreement released by the board of elections — which settles a lawsuit brought by the North Carolina Alliance for Retired Americans over provisions related to absentee voting — the process of correcting those errors would be simplified, especially as it relates to the witness section of the ballot.

The agreement would allow for a voter with a mistake in the witness' section of the ballot to fill out an affidavit and send it to the county board of elections. The current rules require the voter to obtain a new ballot.

The two Republicans on the five-person state board of elections resigned earlier this week at least in part because of the settlement and rule changes, with Democratic Attorney General Josh Stein calling it “political theater at its most destructive.”

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