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So far, more than 6,800 Chatham County residents requested an absentee ballot, putting Chatham in the top 10 among N.C. counties for such requests. As absentee ballot requests surge and questions of the speed of the U.S. Postal Service loom, the News + Record reached out to the state and county boards of elections to answer some common questions about the practice.
Any registered voter can request an absentee ballot in North Carolina. Local requests must be received by the Chatham County Board of Elections in writing using a downloadable form that is available at both the state and county websites. The deadline to request and absentee ballot is Oct. 27, but they can be sent well in advance of that date. There will also be an new online portal to request absentee ballots available at the state’s website on Sept. 1.
Residents will not be sent an absentee ballot unless they or a close family member request it. Parents can request absentee ballots for their children in college and children can apply for parents who reside in assisted living care facilities. Absentee ballots must be mailed by the board of elections and cannot be picked up at the local elections office.
Elections offices will begin mailing out absentee ballots on Sept. 4. Once received, the ballot must be filled out by the voter, but voters can get assistance from a close relative or guardian. The ballot also requires one witness signature by someone who is over 18 years of age. Witnesses cannot be a candidate for office, an officer or campaign worker for any party or candidate, nor an owner, manager or employee of a hospital or assisted living facility.
If additional assistance is required for someone such as a person living in an assisted living facility, the Chatham County Board of Elections office has Multipartisan Assistance Teams appointed by the county’s election board. Every team includes a member from each of the political parties to ensure non-partisan assistance.
Ballots can be returned by mail, by commercial services such a UPS or FedEx, in person at the Chatham County Board of Elections office or at any open early voting site in the county. Ballots mailed using forever stamps be considered first-class mail, according to the N.C. Board of Elections. Ballots must be postmarked by Election Day, Nov. 3 and received by Nov. 6 to be counted.
In Chatham County, completed absentee ballots can also be hand-delivered to an early voting site or to the board of elections office by 5 p.m. on election day — but not to a polling site on Election Day. The person delivering the ballot must either be the voter or a near relative or guardian of the voter.
If an absentee ballot that rejected for some reason, the voter will be alerted by the Chatham County Board of Elections office. And even if you request an absentee ballot, you may still choose to vote in-person instead. But each voter will only be able to vote once. When an absentee ballot is returned, workers mark the voter in the system as voted so the check-in system at early voting and on election day will alert the poll worker that the person has already voted. Following that, the Chatham County Elections Board will hold “absentee meetings” where they review returned ballots to determine if they are completed properly and the voters choices are added to the tally.
As election day nears and concerns over COVID-19 and potential post office delays, perhaps the best advice is to gather accurate information from official source about the process and plan ahead. Chatham’s board of elections is updating its website as new information becomes available, and there is always a staff member available to answer questions by phone or email.
“People need to know about how to vote more than ever before,” said Pandora Paschal, executive director of the Chatham County Board of Elections.
Casey Mann can be reached at CaseyMann@Chathamnr.com.
Chatham County Board of Elections
State Board of Elections website
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