Right Name, Wrong State: How a Bethel, NC Town Clerk Got A Ballot Meant For Bethel, ME Home

FILE - In this Thursday, Sept. 3, 2020, file photo, stacks of ballot envelopes waiting to be mailed are seen at the Wake County Board of Elections in Raleigh, N.C. A federal judge has blocked updated North Carolina absentee voting rules that gave voters more leeway to fix witness problems and extended the period when elections boards could accept mailed-in ballots. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome, File)

By Sue Wasserman

November 12, 2020

An absentee ballot meant for Bethel, Maine arrived in Bethel, NC right before Election Day. Then, this town clerk jumped into action.

Every vote counts. The magnitude of that hit home for Jessica Britt on Nov. 2.  

That’s when Britt, the town clerk of Bethel, an Eastern NC town with 1,600 residents spanning a mere mile,  discovered a misdelivered ballot had been mailed to the North Carolina town hall. It was meant to go to Bethel, Maine, some 850 miles away from the Pitt County town

Election Day, after all, was just a day away. 

“When I realized where this ballot was supposed to be delivered, I was immediately sick to my stomach,” Britt said in an interview this week with Cardinal & PIne.

Although she had been busy with other duties that day, she cast them aside to get this waylaid ballot where it needed to be in Maine. 

The Two Bethels Connect

As soon as Britt got back to her office, she went online to find contact information for the town manager in Bethel, Maine, and called her up. 

“When Jessica called, telling me she had one of our ballots, all I could say was ‘What!’” recalled Loretta Powers, the Bethel, Maine town manager who administers elections for the community of  2,600. “Nothing like this had ever happened before.” 

READ MORE: Keep Up With NC Election News at Cardinal & Pine’s Live Election Blog

As luck would have it, another employee in Power’s office was friends with the voter-in-question’s mom. (As is the way in small towns like Bethel, Maine and Bethel, NC) 

Alex Duclos, who attends college in Massachusetts and was excited to vote in his first presidential election, assumed his ballot had already been received and counted after dropping it in the mail. 

The Maine town official called Duclos up, and let him know what happened. The college student would be able to vote if he could get himself back up to Maine that next day on Election Day.

But there was another problem.

“He didn’t have a car to get here,” Powers said.

NC Town Clerk Takes Action

Britt also spoke to the distraught young voter herself and realized it would be up to her to try and get his ballot to Maine in time since he wouldn’t be able to vote in-person.

“This could have been me,” she said. “Like Alex, I was voting for the first time. I’ve never been into politics until this election when I took the time to educate myself about the issues because it felt like an incredibly important time to vote. 

“Just as I wanted to make sure my voice was counted, I wanted Alex’s voice to be heard, too.” 

Jessica Britt, Bethel, NC town clerk

Britt drove to the Bethel, NC post office around 2:30 p.m the Monday before Election Day. There, she pleaded with the postmaster, explaining the situation’s gravity. The postmaster let her know he could include it in a package of Express mail to get it moving toward Maine as fast as possible. 

Her efforts paid off. Hours before polls were to open at East Coast polling stations on Election Day, the ballot made it to Maine. Britt learned of the good news through a local television newscast that had covered the ballot rescue mission. “I felt such a sense of relief,” she said.

Her Maine counterpart was also awed by the speed the ballot got from Bethel, NC to Bethel, Maine. Powers picked up the well-traveled ballot and personally delivered it to the polls to be included in Maine’s election. 

Duty To Make Sure Every Vote Counts 

Britt has been surprised by the number of people in Bethel (the North Carolina one) who have been contacting her to applaud her efforts. “So many have either called or stopped by to tell me I did a good job. I simply did what I thought was my duty.” 

The most cherished reaction, however, has been that of Britt’s 16-year-old daughter, who is taking a high school civics class this year and shared her mom’s heroic efforts on behalf of democracy with the class. 

“When she told me, ‘Mom, you did a good thing,’ I was really proud.”

Right Name, Wrong State: How a Bethel, NC Town Clerk Got A Ballot Meant For Bethel, ME Home
Jessica Britt, the Bethel, NC town clerk.


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