NC Scrambles to Inform Voters of Errors10/21 06:16

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 
Day.

   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 
comment.

   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 
errors.

   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 
affidavit.

   "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.

© 2020 CHS Inc.