Absentee ballot rejection rates down in NC despite record number of mail-in votes

JOHNSTON COUNTY, N.C. (WTVD) -- The COVID-19 pandemic sparked millions of North Carolinians to vote in new ways.

The North Carolina State Board of Elections reported six times more mail-in ballots already cast in 2020 than during the last presidential election.

Similarly, early in-person voting numbers currently showing more than 800,000 more people heading to the polls before Nov. 3 than in 2016.

The pandemic isn't the only new obstacle many counties had to overcome.

Around half of North Carolina counties saw an increase in registered voters since 2016, according to NCSBE data.



Johnston County experienced some of the largest increases with a 14% influx over the last four years.

"We've grown like 3,000 in the last three months," said Leigh Anne Price, Johnston County's election director.

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The Democratic Party has held the largest share of North Carolina voters for years, however since 2008, the share of voters has declined by 10%.



This change has led the county to add additional early one-stop sites and hire dozens of additional workers. Price said in addition to increasing voting locations, she's mailed out 22,000 mail-in ballots.

"A lot more planning has been done for this election than any other since I've been here," she said. "It's like a trial and error. I didn't know how to prepare in a precinct. They gave us the guidelines and how to mark every six feet, but you can visualize it. But to watch it in action is just awesome. Every one of my sites I've just gone and sat back and watched how the flow of traffic goes and everyone has been very receptive to wearing a mask."

Despite many voters tackling mail-in voting for the first time, data shows fewer ballots getting rejected than in past elections.

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Election data analyzed by the ABC11 I-Team found in 2016, one out of every 10 ballots were rejected in six counties. Statewide, 96.9% of mail-in ballots were accepted, according to NCSBE.

In 2018, rejection rates were even higher. Statewide, only 93.7% of mail-in ballots were accepted. As many as one out of every five ballots were rejected in some counties, based on ABC11's analysis.

Despite the massive increase in mail-in ballots this year, the latest data shows rejection rates are down across the state.

Data from the U.S. Election Project reported the highest rejection rate is 5% in Robeson County.

"We're seeing much lower rates, the average acceptance rate statewide is 98% and that means voters are educating themselves," said Alissa Ellis, an advocacy director at Democracy NC.

The nonpartisan organization has worked to help voters navigate the election process and to reduce barriers to voting.

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"In this election we are seeing an astronomical shift in voter behavior," Ellis said. "Voters are really showing up and they're navigating a complicated process in a complicated time to make their voices heard and I think they're really relying on organizations for support as they navigate the process."

Price also accredits the lower rejection rates to voters being better informed this election.

North Carolina voters do have the chance to correct their ballot if it is initially rejected.

Price said of the around 150 ballots that were marked for a deficiency in Johnston County, half have been corrected.

Voters can track if their ballot is accepted online. The deadline to request a mail-in ballot was Tuesday, however, North Carolinians can still cast a ballot at early polling locations until Saturday.

Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 3.

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