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State, local elections officials: voting by mail secure
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State, local elections officials: voting by mail secure

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State and local elections officials are trying to assure voters that casting a mail-in ballot is safe after President Donald Trump last week used Twitter to question the security of using mail-in ballots and called for delaying the November election until people can safely vote in person.

Trump, in the same tweet, said voting by mail-in ballots will make 2020 the most inaccurate and fraudulent election in history, even though voting hasn’t started.

The N.C. State Board of Elections said the president does not have the authority to unilaterally change an election date. The date for the presidential election is set by federal law. To change the date would require legislation to be enacted by Congress and signed by the president.

Dates for when new members of Congress and the president take office are enshrined in the U.S. Constitution and can’t be changed without amending it, the state board said.  

The state board said election officials have worked for many months to ensure accessible, safe and accurate elections in 2020, despite the COVID-19 pandemic. It also sent along reasons why mail-in ballots are safe. They include:

  • Election officials send ballots only to registered voters who request them using official request forms that can be found at https://bit.ly/33dxmUl.
  • The voter or his or her near relative must fill out and sign the request form. Required information includes the voter's date of birth and driver's license number or last four digits of his or her Social Security number.
  • Fraudulently or falsely completing the form is a Class I felony. Criminal penalties also have increased for absentee voting fraud-related offenses. The state board has an Investigations Division, which has a dedicated team of experienced investigators who probe credible allegations of election fraud and refer cases to prosecutors when warranted by the evidence.
  • This year, voters must vote their ballot in the presence of one witness. The witness must sign the absentee return envelope, certifying that the voter marked his or her ballot and is the registered voter submitting the ballot.
  • Only the voter or his or her near relative or legal guardian may return the ballot. County boards of elections keep a log of who drops off absentee ballots.
  • Upon return, the county board of elections reviews the absentee envelope to ensure compliance with the legal requirements.
  • Once the ballot is accepted, that voter is marked in the system as having voted in that election. If that voter tries to vote in person, poll workers will know the person has already submitted an absentee ballot.
  • Many people are watching North Carolina’s absentee voting process, including candidates, political parties, county boards of elections, political and data scientists, and the media. If there are anomalies or questionable activities, they will be reported to election officials.
  • The state board conducts post-election audits that will catch inconsistencies that can then be investigated by the board or the Investigations Division.

Local response

Debbie Mace, director of elections for Burke County, said her office has already received 661 requests for mail ballots.

Mace said a mail-in ballot is as safe and secure as any other method of voting and a vote by mail-in ballot is counted just as any other method. She said her office and the local board of elections would rather see someone vote by mail rather than not vote at all.

“We want everybody to get the opportunity to vote,” Mace said.

The deadline to request a mail-in ballot is 5 p.m. Oct. 27. A mail-in ballot can be delivered to the Burke County Board of Elections at 2128 S. Sterling St., Morganton, in person or can be mailed in, but the ballot has to be postmarked by 5 p.m. Nov. 3, Election Day. The board of elections can receive a mail-in ballot up to three days after the election, Mace said.

Mace said mail has been running slow lately, so she recommended voters get their mail-in ballots in as soon as possible.

The local board of elections also has been working on making voting in person as safe as possible during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mace has said that every employee will be provided a mask, and voters will be offered a mask if they come in without one.

She said hand sanitizer will be available at every precinct as people come in the door and as they leave. Voting booths also will be kept as clean as possible with wipes.

Mace also plans to provide throwaway pens for voters to use to mark their ballots. Voters can choose to keep the pen, she said.

In addition, a shield is being installed at the board of elections.

Early voting

The county will have five early voting sites — Glen Alpine Town Hall, Rutherford College Town Hall, Burke County Senior Center, the library/senior center in Hildebran and the Burke County Board of Elections office.

The state board earlier this month sent out mandates to local boards for early voting due to COVID-19.

One of the mandates included operating early voting sites for 10 hours on weekends. The county board recently voted to operate the early voting sites for 10 hours on Saturdays and no voting on Sunday, Mace said.

The planned hours for early voting are from 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. weekdays starting Thursday, Oct. 15. The hours for Saturday, Oct. 17 and Oct. 24, are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Early voting ends on Saturday, Oct. 31 and the hours that day will be 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., Mace said.

Those with questions can call the Burke County Board of Elections at 828-764-9010.

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