North Carolina State Board of Elections

Oct. 19, 2020

County Boards of Elections Now Contacting Voters with Absentee Ballot Deficiencies

County boards of elections across North Carolina are now contacting voters whose absentee ballot return envelopes were not properly completed to inform them of the steps necessary to ensure their votes are counted.

Because of ongoing litigation, North Carolina’s ballot curing process had been on hold since October 4.

The State Board reissued Numbered Memo 2020-19 on Monday afternoon, updating guidance on curing deficient absentee ballots based on recent court decisions.

“The State Board has directed the county boards of elections to immediately begin reaching out to voters with problems with their absentee ballots,” said Karen Brinson Bell, executive director of the N.C. State Board of Elections. “Our main focus continues to be ensuring all eligible voters can successfully and safely cast ballots in this important election.”

As of 1:30 p.m. Monday, nearly 1.7 million North Carolinians, or 23 percent of registered voters, had cast ballots in the 2020 general election. In-person early voting continues through October 31, and Election Day is November 3.

An estimated 10,000 ballots statewide have deficiencies that require a cure. The State Board will provide updated numbers of deficient ballots as county boards begin processing these ballots and entering them into the statewide election management system.

Under the new guidance for curing absentee ballots, the following actions will be taken by county boards of elections:

  •     If a voter returns a ballot without a witness signature or assistant signature (if the voter received assistance), a new ballot will be issued by mail to the voter. The first ballot will be spoiled. If the voter already voted in person during the early voting period, a new ballot will not be sent.
  •     If a voter returns a ballot with a deficiency other than a missing witness or assistant signature, the county board will send the voter a certification to sign and return to ensure the ballot is counted. Such deficiencies include envelopes not signed by the voter or signed by the voter in the wrong place, as well as envelopes missing the printed name or address of the witness or assistant (if the voter received assistance). Any “Absentee Cure Certification” must be received by the voter’s county board of elections no later than 5 p.m. Thursday, November 12.
  •     County boards are expected to contact any voter with an absentee ballot deficiency in writing within one business day to inform the voter of the deficiency and how to correct it.

Also as a result of recent court decisions, the State Board of Elections on Monday released Numbered Memo 2020-22. This memo directs county boards of elections to accept absentee ballots received in the mail through 5 p.m. November 12, provided that they are postmarked on or before Election Day, November 3.

Tips for Voters with 15 Days Until Election Day

  •     If voting by mail, please return your completed ballot as soon as possible. You may place your ballot in the mail. You may also hand-deliver it to your county board of elections office until 5 p.m. November 3 or 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, 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. It will be spoiled after you vote 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.
  •     In-person early voting ends October 31. For county-by-county sites and schedules, go here:
  •     On Election Day, November 3, polls will be open from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Voters should go to their assigned polling place. Voters may find their Election Day polling place through the Voter Search tool:

North Carolina State Board of Elections
October 15, 2020

Statement from Executive Director Karen Brinson Bell

North Carolina State Board of Elections

September 25, 2020

State Board Releases Closed Session Minutes, Briefings

The State Board of Elections Friday morning voted to release the following documents to promote transparency and public confidence in the administration of elections and to ensure voters have accurate information about recent board decisions:

  • Minutes of the September 15 closed session meeting during which the board discussed a possible settlement of lawsuits challenging certain absentee voting procedures.
  • A privileged and confidential “Bench Memo” drafted by the State Board legal team and provided to State Board members before the closed session meeting. It contains nine pages of information about the status of outstanding lawsuits and factors for the board to consider when determining whether to settle lawsuits versus waiting for the courts to decide.
  • A privileged and confidential memorandum from attorneys at the N.C. Department of Justice, who, by statute, represent the State Board in litigation matters. This six-page memo, provided to Board members before the September 15 meeting, contains information about the status of outstanding cases, details of outcomes of similar lawsuits in other states, and a discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of possible settlement terms.
Combined, the minutes and the memos show that all five State Board members were thoroughly briefed on the pros and cons of any settlement regarding absentee voting and that all board members had ample opportunity to ask questions and provide feedback on the proposed settlement.

Releasing the documents required the waiver of attorney-client privilege, an unusual step for any agency. However, the State Board determined it was necessary to promote public confidence in our election system at this critical juncture, when many falsehoods are being perpetuated about the administration of elections.

“We believe in transparency, and we believe voters have a right to know what preceded the Board’s unanimous decision to seek settlement of outstanding lawsuits,” said State Board Executive Director Karen Brinson Bell. “If approved, this settlement provides certainty for voters about absentee voting processes, while not sacrificing many safeguards in place to ensure absentee voting is secure in North Carolina.”

The State Board also wants to dispel misinformation about what the settlement proposal would do. The proposal:
  1. Allows problems with witness information on the absentee ballot return envelope to be corrected by a sworn certification of the voter. As absentee by-mail voting began in North Carolina, by far the most common problem with returned ballots was missing witness information. The witness requirement remains in place. However, if a ballot is returned without required witness name, address, and/or signature, it can be corrected with a sworn certification from the voter affirming that the voter returned their ballot for the November 2020 general election and will not vote more than once in the election. It also allows missing assistant information to be corrected. The penalty for providing false information on the form is a Class I felony. This change is already in place, because a federal court order requires the State Board to provide due process to voters whose ballots would otherwise be rejected.
  2. If approved by the court, it would extend the date that ballots would be accepted from November 6 to November 12, provided that they are postmarked on or before Election Day. This ensures that no ballots cast after Election Day may be counted. It maintains the postmark requirement in statute and ensures that lawful votes cast by Election Day are counted, even if there are postal delays, which the U.S. Postal Service alerted the State about by a letter in August. The November 12 deadline mirrors the existing law for acceptance of military and overseas ballots. In North Carolina, nearly all ballots cast in the 2020 election – including all Election Day and in-person early votes, as well as all by-mail ballots received through November 2 – will be counted and reported on election night. It would also define postmark to include tracking information indicating a ballot was in the custody of USPS or a commercial carrier on or before Election Day.
  3. If approved by the court, it would require county board of elections staff to keep a log of who returns absentee ballots in person to the county board office or early voting sites by orally communicating with the person dropping the ballot off and entering certain information into a log. This would not allow drop boxes for the return of absentee ballots. It would specifically require county boards that use a drop box for other purposes – such as the return of voter registration applications – to place a sign on that box stating that voters may not place their absentee ballots in the box. It would lift the requirement that the person delivering the ballot fill out a detailed written log. However, if an unauthorized person returns the ballot, they must still fill out the written log.
Absentee voting remains safe and secure in North Carolina. See 12 Reasons why absentee by-mail voting is safe and secure in North Carolina.

Please see the prepared remarks of State Board Chair Damon Circosta, as stated during Friday’s board meeting.


North Carolina State Board of Elections
September 22, 2020

State Board Updates Cure Process to Ensure More  Lawful Votes Count

The State Board of Elections on Tuesday announced changes to the absentee voting process to make it easier for a voter to fix problems with their absentee ballot.

The changes were included in a joint motion asking the court to approve a settlement with plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed by the North Carolina Alliance for Retired Americans. The lawsuit challenged various absentee voting processes in North Carolina.

In the  joint motion filed Tuesday in Wake County Superior Court, the parties agree that the witness requirement for absentee voters will remain in place. The witness must fill out required fields on the ballot return envelope, including their name, address and signature.

The State Board will allow a voter whose witness does not fill out required fields on the envelope to correct that mistake through an affidavit of the voter. Numbered Memo 2020-19, updated and reissued Tuesday, describes this process.

Under the agreement, the following issues can be cured by the voter completing and returning an affidavit sent to them by their county board of elections:

  • Voter did not sign the Voter Certification
  • Voter signed in the wrong place
  • Witness or assistant did not print name
  • Witness or assistant did not print address
  • Witness or assistant did not sign
  • Witness or assistant signed on the wrong line
So far in the 2020 general election, incomplete witness information is the main problem with absentee ballot envelopes. Previous State Board guidance required those voters to cast a new ballot.

Under the joint motion, the plaintiffs agree not to continue to pursue additional changes they had sought, including the elimination of the absentee witness requirement, a requirement that boards of elections pay for return postage,  and the lifting of prohibitions on who can assist with and deliver absentee request forms.

“Voters deserve certainty. Our board, both Democrats and Republicans, agreed unanimously to make these commonsense changes to our process amid the Covid-19 pandemic,” said Damon Circosta, State Board chair. “We have ensured that our election process is secure and accessible.”

The joint motion, if approved by the court, would also extend the date that county boards will accept ballots by mail to 5 p.m. Thursday, November 12, if they are postmarked on or before Election Day. It would also allow individuals who return ballots in person to do so without touching a written log. Instead, the person returning the ballot would orally state certain information, which the elections worker would document. If the person is not authorized to return the ballot, the elections worker would ask for more information.

Under state law, only a voter, or the voter’s near relative or legal guardian may possess and return an absentee ballot.