NEW HANOVER COUNTY — With the election around the corner, the New Hanover County Board of Elections met Tuesday evening to move forward with approving a slate of mail-in ballots, and to digest the culmination of legal battles that have played out at the state level.
Last week the N.C. State Board of Elections issued revised guidance to county elections boards, in light of a new court ruling that sets the guidelines for mail-in ballot requirements.
Under the finalized rules, some deficiencies with mail-in ballots can be “cured” with an affidavit from the voter that verifies the ballot. These deficiencies include: The voter did not sign the voter certification; the voter signed in the wrong place; the witness or assistant did not print their name; the witness or assistant did not print their address.
The court ruled some ballot deficiencies cannot be fixed with an affidavit, requiring instead for the ballot to be “spoiled” and a new ballot sent to the voter. Spoiled ballots include ones that are: missing a signature from the witness or assistant, unsealed upon arrival at the county board office, and/or indicating a voter has requested a replacement ballot.
“The court reiterated that the witness signature is required by law, so if an absentee-by-mail ballot is missing a witness signature, then the ballot must be spoiled,” county board of elections member Derrick Miller said. “You can’t accept it; it can’t be fixed. The person has to vote again with a new ballot.”
In anticipation of the upcoming election, the county board has been holding frequent meetings. As legal scuffles between state-level actors over ballot requirements unfolded over the past few weeks, approximately 100 county mail-in ballots with witness deficiencies sat in limbo. Now, with the revised guidance finalized, county boards across the state have necessary instructions on how to move forward with correcting ballots that may have missing signatures, addresses or other problems.
At the meeting on Tuesday, elections director Rae Hunter-Havens and the board moved forward with recommending more than 3,000 absentee ballots for approval. The ballots were taken into the elections office, where they were manually scanned and prepared for tabulation, which takes place closer to election night. The board discussed one convoluted situation where a husband and wife had submitted their ballots by mail in the other’s envelope — a situation that requires an entirely new ballot.
Of the 3,184 ballots the county board has processed through the mail since the board’s last meeting on Oct. 13, only 16 were recommended for disapproval due to missing witness requirements or other issues.
If the ballot is signed by the witness but lacks a complete address or printed name, the county board must reach out to the voter immediately with a “Cure Certification” letter, an affidavit that allows the voter to verify the ballot is indeed legitimate.
As of Wednesday, voters have submitted more than 56,000 ballots in New Hanover County. Approximately 18,000 have been received by mail and 38,000 have come from one-stop, early-voting sites.
Of the one-stop, early-voting ballots, nearly 12,000 were submitted by unaffiliated voters. Republicans have cast 13,634 one-stop ballots and Democrats have cast 12,370.
More than 2.1 million North Carolinians have already voted throughout the state, totaling an almost 30% turnout rate so far.
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