Voting by Mail: A Down Home How-To

In the age of COVID-19, more people than ever are going to vote by mail for the first time. But what is vote by mail, and how does it work? Voting by mail, also known as absentee voting in North Carolina, is exactly what it says on the tin- it’s a safe and secure way to count your vote and make sure your voice is heard this election without physically being at the polls on Election Day.

To vote by mail in North Carolina, follow these 5 steps.

Make sure you’re registered to vote.

The good news is that the only requirement to vote by mail in North Carolina is to be a registered voter. Not sure if you’re registered? You can check your status here

a. Be sure that you’re registered at your current address!
b. Registrations that are received 25 days before an election will not be processed until after the election.

Luckily, the process is easy— North Carolinians can simply register to vote online. Aim to have your registration status confirmed by October 2nd- it’s a comfortable 25 days before the mail-in deadline. Voting by mail takes a while, even when the USPS is fully functional.

Request and complete an absentee ballot request form.

The request form can be downloaded from your county board of elections office and printed at home. Si necesita un documento de solicitud de boleta de voto ausente en español, las instrucciones se pueden encontrar aquí. If you have received a third-party absentee ballot request form, you can use and submit that. However, it’s safest just to use the official document.

On September 1st, you should also be able to request an absentee form and fill it out digitally on the NC Board of Elections site. If you’re requesting an absentee ballot from the NC BOE via mail, the first ones will be mailed out September 4th. You’ll need to complete the form and submit it to your county’s BOE in person, by email, fax, or mail via U.S. Postal Service, DHL, FedEx or UPS. The deadline for submitting an absentee request form is on Tuesday, October 27, 2020 at 5:00 pm. We strongly recommend doing this step early to avoid any potential slowdowns, either digitally or in-person.

Help a family member fill in their request form.

You may be or know someone who could use assistance filling out their form. Any voter’s near relative (that’s a spouse, sibling, parent, grandparent, child, grandchild, immediate inlaw, stepparent, or stepchild) or a legal guardian can request an absentee ballot for them in North Carolina. There are also county-appointed Multipartisan Assistance Teams (MATs) that are authorized to assist voters. Contact your local BOE to learn more about MATs. If a near relative is not available, you can help or be helped by someone, but they’ll have to list their name and address on the request form. 

Once you receive your ballot in the mail, get a witness and fill it out.

These items cannot be picked up in person, they’ll be coming to you in the mail. Once received, you should have an absentee ballot, a return envelope with a certificate statement on it, and an instruction sheet. You’ll need someone over the age of 18 to act as a witness. To fill your ballot, give each other some privacy as you vote the ballot addressed to you only. When your ballot is completed:

a. Seal the ballot in the provided envelope.
b. Complete the Absentee Application and Certificate (on the return envelope).
c. Have your witness complete the Witness’s Certification.

If you need assistance marking the ballot or are assisting someone: Folks who need assistance marking the ballot can have an assistant. They’re only allowed to mark the ballot in the voter’s presence and at their discretion. Each person must provide their address, complete, and sign the certificate on the return envelope.

Return your ballot, in person if possible.

We know it sounds a bit backwards to deliver a mail-in ballot in person, but this step is crucially important to make sure there’s no delay from mail slowdowns, especially in rural communities. Grab some PPE (masks and gloves if you have them) and head on down to your local BOE to hand in your request form. You can also turn in a completed absentee ballot to an early voting site from October 15-31, or mail it in. Again, we really recommend doing this part in person! The deadline for turning in you absentee ballot is Election Day, November 3rd, 2020 at 5:00 pm.

Note: Only the voter, their close relatives, and authorized MAT members can turn in a ballot for someone else. Be mindful of this as you solicit or offer assistance to folks- we want to make sure everyone’s voice is accounted for!

What’s next?

Keep your friends and family informed by sharing this post! If you are interested in helping your neighbors access the vote, sign up for a Phone Banking shift or other event with Down Home- we’ve always got something going on.