Mailers cause concern as absentee requests surge

BY CASEY MANN, News + Record Staff
Posted 8/12/20

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to grip the country and the 2020 election moves closer, the demand for absentee ballots is surging in the state — and in Chatham.

A recent tweet by Gerry …

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Mailers cause concern as absentee requests surge

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Posted

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to grip the country and the 2020 election moves closer, the demand for absentee ballots is surging in the state — and in Chatham.

A recent tweet by Gerry Cohen, a member of the Wake County Board of Elections, notes, for example, that Chatham County is in the top 15 of North Carolina counties for absentee ballot requests, which he estimates is more than double than those requested in 2016, the last Presidential election year.

According to Chatham County Board of Elections Executive Director Pandora Paschal, the total count of absentee ballot requests is approaching 4,500. Paschal said that she doesn’t have the capability to determine exactly how many requested ballots in 2016, but she did confirm that a little more than 2,000 Chatham voters voted using absentee ballots that year, similar to the estimates Cohen used.

At the same time, advocacy groups are sending unsolicited mailers to voters across the state, urging voters to apply for their absentee ballot. So many, in fact, that the N.C. State Board of Elections’ Public Information Officer Pat Gannon sent out a statement to all its county directors who are “getting bombarded by calls,” according to the email communication obtained by the News + Record.

Gannon’s communique said that there were “many ongoing outreach efforts by third parties urge residents to request absentee by-mail ballots or register to vote,” with some mailings including “voter registration applications or absentee ballot request forms.” Gannon noted that while these efforts typically are legal as long as they are not pre-filled, the mailer can be “confusing or frustrating for voters and erode confidence in elections, especially when they are unsolicited.”

“The State and County Boards of Elections encourage third-party groups to consider the overwhelming toll that misleading or confusing mailings and other outreach efforts take on elections resources and the damage they cause to voters’ confidence in elections,” said Karen Brinson Bell, executive director of the State Board of Elections in the statement. “We need our elections officials to be focused on serving more than 7 million voters during a pandemic.”

The state elections board has suggested several tips for voters in dealing with the “onslaught of mail, phone calls and text messages.” They include:

• Rely on official sources. This means using forms and information directly from the state or county board of elections offices and officials.

• Check you voter registration in advance of the start of early voting using the state board’s “voter search” tool. If you are not registered or need to update your registration, you can complete a form to mail into your local office. There will also be same-day registration available during early voting.

• If you want to request an absentee ballot, use the official form that is available on both the state’s and the Chatham County Board of Elections’ websites. If you request a ballot, that information is confidential until the marked ballot is returned to the local election office. Ballots will be sent out beginning Sept. 4.

• If you have concerns about a mailing, the state board suggest contacting the group who sent the mailing since election officials do not have the authority to stop such efforts if they comply with state law.

• State and Chatham County elections offices and officials are not associated with the groups that are sending out the mass mailings and will not randomly call or text residents encouraging them to register to vote or to request an absentee ballot.

• Elections officials also “do not verify the accuracy of data, such as voter record data,” that may appear in the mailings and elections officials will not go door-to-door.

• Request the information, identities and organizations of those who come to your door. If they refuse to provide you with that information, contact the N.C. Board of Elections office at 919-814-0700 and ask for the Investigations Division.

“We know these groups are often well intended and we certainly do not want to discourage folks from being active participants in our democracy,” Brinson Bell said, “but we must make sure that these actions do not prohibit, impair, or cause voters not to be active participants in democracy.”

Perhaps the best bet for Chatham residents who find unsolicited mail that raises concern is to contact the Chatham County Board of Elections office to verify your registration, request an absentee ballot if you choose to and find out the latest on where early voting and precinct locations will be for in-person voting.

Casey Mann can be reached at CaseyMann@Chathamnr.com.

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