Make your vote count by avoiding these common absentee ballot mistakes

Samantha Kummerer Image
BySamantha Kummerer WTVD logo
Thursday, September 24, 2020
Make your vote count by avoiding these common mistakes
Thousands of votes aren't counted each year due to voters making common mistakes on their absentee ballots.

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- You may want to blame the mail, but thousands of ballots aren't counted each year due to voters making common mistakes on their absentee ballots.

With 892,000 more voters requesting absentee ballots this year than during this time in 2016, the ABC11 I-Team dug into the most common reasons why ballots are rejected.

Wake County voter Tom Pfeiffer knows firsthand how easy it can be to make a simple mistake that leads to a rejected ballot.

"With COVID, I had a lot of concern about voting at the polls, even the early voting," Pfeiffer said. "I think there is going to be a large turnout this time around and there's going to be lines and you don't know if people are going to be distancing or wearing masks."

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To reduce the risk of exposure, he and his wife requested and filled out an absentee ballot. He said they thought they did everything right until they went to return the ballots at the county's election office. It was there that the couple overheard a staff member explaining to another voter that a witness signature also required a full address, including city and zipcode.

The Pfeiffers immediately recognized they left out that part as each other's witness.

"I think in part because the space was so small, and in part because, well, this is our home and the voters' name and address is printed on the top of the envelope," Pfeiffer said.

The Pfieffers were able to make the adjustment before submitting their ballots but worry others may make the same mistake.

"Simple mistake, easy mistake to make and I'm just concerned. In fact, I talked to a couple of friends who are doing the absentee voting just to give them a heads up and one of them had already done the exact same thing I did," Pfieffer said.

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Witness information missing is one of the top reasons ballots are rejected in many of the past elections. Other issues include missing voter's signature, returned after the deadline and a 'spoiled' ballot.

Karen Brinson Bell, the NC State Board of Elections executive director, said county boards are trained to look out for lack of information on mailed in ballots.

"A County Board of Elections staff member will be reviewing each envelope and if they see that something is missing, then we'll give notice to the voter and they'll have an opportunity to correct that," Bell said.

RELATED: Most absentee ballots have been accepted, but experts say North Carolinians lack familiarity with the process

The number of accepted absentee ballots has decreased over the past few elections according to the North Carolina State Board of Elections. Close to 10% of all absentee ballots (2,883) were not accepted in the primary earlier this year. During the last Presidential Election in 2016, the NC Board of Elections reported 3.1% of ballots were not accepted.

Another top reason for a ballot getting rejected is it getting returned after the deadline.

More than 1,200 votes didn't count in North Carolina during the 2016 general election because they were returned too late. The ABC11 I-Team analyzed data from 2016 and found most absentee ballots took two weeks between when they were sent and labeled as received, however some took a little as one day, and one took 73 days.

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Bell said the instructions should be clear on the envelopes voters receive.

"Perhaps people are rushing or just not familiar with the process. If there's any doubt, call our office and find out what the procedures are supposed to be," Bell said.

Top tips for filling out your ballot:

  • Use a ballpoint pen
  • Voters be sure to sign the envelope
  • Witness must print entire address, including street, city, state and zip code
  • You can return your ballot through mail, at your county board of elections office or an early voting site.
  • Absentee ballots received after 5 p.m. on Election Day will be counted only if they are postmarked on or before Election Day and received by mail no later than 5 p.m. November 6.
  • Track your ballot here.
  • For answers to more Frequently Asked Questions, click here.