How Post Office Delays and Lawsuits Impact Absentee Voting in NC

Between the lawsuits and post office delays, it's hard to know what to do about absentee balloting in NC. We've got everything you need to know here. (Image via Shutterstock)

By Michael McElroy

October 20, 2020

There’s a lot to follow between the post office backlogs and a winding court case over absentee ballot procedures. We’ve got everything you need to know here. 

The absentee ballot process in North Carolina is roaring along, with more than 1.3 million ballots requested so far and less than half returned, approved and counted. 

But with exactly two weeks until Election Day, there are two new benchmarks in the process that voters need to know to ensure their absentee ballot is counted.

First, time is now an issue.

The official last day to request a ballot by mail is Oct. 27, but with the US Postal Service beset with delays, officials have recommended that voters request their absentee ballot within 15 days of Election Day, or by Oct. 19. That was yesterday. Postal workers say they need enough time to get the ballot to voters and then for the voters to return it.

RELATED: Cardinal Votes: Your Guide to Voting in North Carolina in 2020

You can also drop the ballot off at your county board of elections, but get those requests in as soon as possible. 

And while you need to hurry your request, make sure you take the time to fill it out properly.

Which brings us to the second development:

After a long legal entanglement over what to do with absentee ballots missing the required witness signature, the NC State Board of Elections has now issued new guidance to the county boards to reach out to those voters and require them to send a replacement. This, too, will take time. 

(You must fill out your ballot in front of a witness, who must then sign the official envelope in the designated place. This law is to guard against fraud.)

The NCBOE voted in September to allow voters whose ballots were missing signatures to sign an affidavit testifying to the legitimacy of the ballot. That’s instead of having to go through the time-consuming process of requesting another ballot, fixing it and sending it all over again.

After initially voting in favor of the changes, two Republican members of the board resigned from their positions. Lawsuits were filed and judges offered contradictory rulings as the case proceeded through the courts, leaving NC elections officials unsure what to do and thousands of ballots in limbo.

But, on Sunday, state Attorney General Josh Stein’s office alerted the federal judge now overseeing the case that the NCBOE would revert to the original way of “curing” the missing witness signatures. That means, if your ballot is now deemed “spoiled” because it lacks a witness signature, you will have to send in a new ballot. This should put an end to the back and forth and is likely to be the final word on this matter. (Though there is still an active suit over how long the ballots postmarked by Election Day will be accepted, given the mail delays.)

There are some 10,000 ballots that have been determined to be problematic for one reason or another, elections officials said, but the good news is elections officials are required to contact you within one business day if they determine that you are missing a signature. They will send a new ballot and guide you through the process.

Here are some updated tips from the NCBOE on how to quickly and completely fix any issues with your absentee ballot.


  • If voting by mail, please return your completed ballot as soon as possible. You may mail your ballot (It needs a stamp) or hand-deliver it to your county board of elections office until 5 p.m. on Nov. 3. You can also drop it off at an early voting site in your county during the early voting period, which ends October 31.
  • If voting by mail, please remember to follow instructions carefully and complete all required sections of the absentee ballot return envelope. These include the voter’s signature, the printed name and address of the witness and the signature of the witness. If the voter receives assistance, as in the case with some voters who have disabilities, the assistant’s information must also be filled out on the envelope.
  • Voters who requested an absentee ballot by mail but have not yet returned it may vote in person if they prefer, either during the early voting period or on Election Day. Simply discard the absentee by mail ballot after voting in-person.
  • Voters may determine whether their ballot was accepted by signing up for BallotTrax: Absentee and in-person early voters may also check whether their ballot was accepted through the State Board’s Voter Search tool: Finally, a voter may contact their county board of elections to ask about the status of their ballotIn-person early voting ends Oct. 31. For county-by-county sites and schedules, go here:
  • On Election Day, Nov. 3, polls will be open from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Voters should go to their assigned polling place which they can find through the Voter Search tool:


  • Michael McElroy

    Michael McElroy is Cardinal & Pine's political correspondent. He is an adjunct instructor at UNC-Chapel Hill's Hussman School of Journalism and Media, and a former editor at The New York Times.

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