NC Scrambles to Inform Voters of Errors10/21 06:16
DURHAM, N.C. (AP) -- Time was dwindling for thousands of North Carolina
voters to fix absentee voting errors as elections officials hustled out an
updated process for handling mail-in ballot problems two weeks before Election
Court battles had halted processing of ballots mailed back with deficiencies
from Oct. 4 until the state issued new guidance Monday. State and federal
judges temporarily froze key parts of the process amid lawsuits over what to do
with ballots that lacked a witness signature and other information.
State and county officials, many working late into the night, said it would
take several days to inform at least 10,000 voters who cast problem ballots. An
uneven landscape emerged in the day after the new rules were announced: Some
counties said they had all but cleared the backlog, but some voters elsewhere
said they hadn't yet been contacted.
In Durham, 24-year-old unaffiliated voter Stephane Prieto was surprised
Tuesday afternoon when a reporter told her that her ballot had been marked as
having incomplete witness information. The state database didn't make clear
exactly what was missing, but if her ballot lacks a witness signature, she'll
have to cast another one.
"It's kind of worrisome," she said of the prospect of obtaining and casting
a new ballot this close to the election.
Prieto, a part-time home health aide who voted for Joe Biden, said her
mother witnessed her ballot, and she mailed it Oct. 6.
"She was right next to me," Prieto said of filling out her ballot. "She
signed it and, you know, we filled everything out. It should have been OK."
Durham County's elections director didn't respond to an email seeking
The North Carolina State Board of Elections said that as of Monday
approximately 10,000 ballots statewide had various deficiencies. But that
number could be higher because counties were instructed not to enter ballots
with errors into a statewide database during the freeze on handling deficient
ballots. During the two-week freeze, voters weren't contacted about ballot
Board Executive Director Karen Brinson Bell said Tuesday that it would take
several days for counties to enter the backlog of deficient ballots into the
system to provide a complete picture of how many there are statewide. Still,
Bell said she hopes that by early next week, "those voters should have their
materials in hand and able to return those to us."
Through Tuesday afternoon, more than 2 million early votes had been cast in
North Carolina, including over 600,000 by mail.
State law requires absentee voters to have another adult witness the ballot
and sign and print their name on the outer envelope. A federal judge ruled last
week that absentee ballots lacking a witness signature require the voter to
restart the process and have it witnessed again.
Redone absentee ballots can be mailed back or returned by hand to county
election boards or early voting sites. Or those people can also cast a ballot
in person, instead.
Other problems including an incomplete witness address, failure of the
witness to print their name or a signature in the wrong place can be fixed by
the voter signing a certificate and sending it back by email or regular mail.
Meanwhile, a federal appeals court ruled Tuesday night that North Carolina
can accept absentee ballots that are postmarked by Election Day for more than a
week afterward. The ruling on the Nov. 12 deadline for the ballots to arrive at
county boards stemmed from the same legal fight over the witness requirement.
Mecklenburg County, which includes Charlotte, worked through about 1,000
deficient absentee ballots until late Monday night after the new guidance was
issued, county elections board spokeswoman Kristin Mavromatis said. Some of the
voters had already sent in cure affidavits, so those were counted. The county
began the notification process for those who can fix their ballots with an
affidavit. And for those who need to cast entirely new ballots, those went into
the mail Tuesday.
"There's no backlog. We cleared it last night. We stayed till midnight,
three of us," she said.
Buncombe County estimated Tuesday that it had about 800 ballots that either
lacked a witness signature and had to be recast or could be cured via an
affidavit, Buncombe County spokeswoman Lillian Govus said in an email. She said
they anticipate it will take them two or three days to contact the voters.
State records show Harnett County confirmed receipt of Republican Elizabeth
Herring's ballot Monday, the day the freeze lifted. She said she put it in the
mail two weeks earlier from California where she's working with coronavirus
patients as a nurse on temporary assignment. State data said the ballot was
"pending cure," meaning Herring should be able to fix it by returning an
"As far as I knew, everything was OK with the ballot," said Herring, who
said she voted for President Donald Trump.
But she's not sure what the exact problem was because, as of Tuesday
afternoon, the local election board had not made contact. The county election
director didn't respond to a reporter's email seeking comment.
If the county sends the cure certification by mail, Herring is concerned
about getting it and sending it back in time.
"So that's not fair to me when I took responsibility early on to make sure
that my vote, my voice counted," she said.