EXCLUSIVE: An inside look as Wake County absentee ballots head to mail

Thursday, September 3, 2020
EXCLUSIVE: An Inside look as Wake County absentee ballots head to mail
Wake County is seeing a record surge in requests for absentee ballots and officials tell the I-Team they're confident voting is safe and secure in North Carolina.

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- This warehouse is anything but bare and empty.

"This is my office right here," Wake County Board of Elections Executive Director Gary Sims told ABC11. "Thank goodness we're in our new facility now to accommodate and adjust to handle the additional volume we have."

Sims is working his sixth Presidential Election, and this one is by far the most challenging: a record 770,393 registered voters and a record 108,000 requests for absentee ballots -- all before Labor Day.

"Triple is not the right word for when it comes to absentee volume," Sims said. "We're over three times the amount of the entirety of 2016."

Indeed, Wake County voters in 2016 only requested 34,000 absentee ballots, with about 28,000 of them actually returned. Significantly, just over 200 ballots (0.7 percent) were denied for reasons such as missing signatures, missing notaries, and incomplete witness information. Officials now are confident that a redesigned envelope and updated laws requiring only one witness and no notary will mean fewer issues.

"We don't see what is being alleged out there," Sims said. "If there ever was, first of all it'd be a Class I felony. If it happens, it goes to the proper authorities for review and investigation."

READ MORE: 19 people across NC charged with federal voter fraud

As per NC law, absentee ballots requests are verified either by information on a driver's license or Social Security number. After that, their ballot is assigned a barcode and a label. Those ballots are then stuffed into envelopes, loaded into cartons and sent to the Post Office, which then delivers them to addresses provided by the voter.

According to Sims, the turnaround time between a request - which can now be made online -- verification and mail delivery can be up to two weeks.

Ballots can be requested until October 27, and they must be postmarked by 5 p.m. Election Day, November 3. Upon receipt at the Board of Elections, the ballots are stored in a locked cage until they are opened, inspected and counted in a public meeting held by the Board of Meetings.

"I feel like Wake County and the whole state of North Carolina -- we have a secure election system," Angela Hawkins, one of two Republican members on the Wake County Board of Elections, told ABC11. "Every voter gets one vote and one vote only. I feel confident in our staff. I feel confident in our team."

Asked what she would tell President Donald Trump, who has been wary of mail-in voting, Hawkins said she would reassure him there's nothing to worry about.

"I would definitely reassure Donald J. Trump that the elections in Wake County, North Carolina, are secure."

Hawkins added that she is grateful to Congress for granting Wake County an additional $885,000 as part of the CARES Act, the trillion-dollar coronavirus relief package passed earlier this year. Officials explain the money boosts the county's election staff, provides them with personal protective equipment, and enables them to buy enough pens so that there's one for every voter at the polls.