More than 1,500 Columbus County residents have requested absentee ballots for the 2020 presidential election, according to the North Carolina State Board of Elections (NCSBE). In 2016, there were only 336 requests.
“We’ve been hit real hard,” said Carla Strickland, director of the Columbus County Board of Elections. “The largest amount we have ever had is 670 [absentee ballot requests].”
By Sept. 9, 1,076 Democrats, 165 Republicans, one Green Party member, four Libertarians, and 270 individuals unaffiliated with a political party in Columbus County had requested an absentee ballot.
In the state of North Carolina, almost 690,000 have requested absentee ballots. This same time in 2016, that number was 43,500, according to NCSBE. The principal reason for that increase is the novel coronavirus, according to Steven Greene, professor of political science at North Carolina State University.
“If you’re concerned about COVID, [absentee ballot] is a great way to vote without exposing yourself to people,” Greene said. “If you’re not concerned about COVID, it’s actually still a really nice, convenient way to vote.”
The main issue with voting by absentee ballot, according to Greene, is the higher likelihood a vote won’t be counted, which could be due to problems like a signature mismatch or a lack of witness. Election officials are responsible for notifying voters of these issues and permitting fixes, according to an August court ruling.
In addition, NCSBE is launching BallotTrax, a digital tool that allows voters to personally track the progress of their ballot, from its shipping route to its receipt by the county’s board of elections.
“When there have been issues, it’s when people are trying to [vote by absentee ballot] right up against the deadline,” Greene said. The Columbus County Board of Elections must receive the request by 5 p.m. on Oct. 27 and the completed ballot by 5 p.m. on Nov. 6, postmarked on or before Election Day.
“Get it done early. We’re already mailing these out,” Greene said. “The county boards of elections have the time to do it.”
On Sept. 4, North Carolina became the first state to start sending ballots to voters for the presidential election on Nov. 3. The Columbus County Board of Elections was already working on mailing the ballots last weekend.
“We’re processing as quickly as we can and as accurately as we can,” Strickland said. “We’re going to have to do a lot of overtime.”