Confusing absentee ballot requests showing up in your mailbox? Here's what you need to know

The mailing are from the Center for Voter Information and the Voter Participation Center and include 2020 state absentee voter request forms.
Election Day is still months away and there is already voter confusion thanks to mass mailings showing up in mailboxes, encouraging residents to request an absentee ballot for the upcoming election. Millions of the mailings are hitting mailboxes in North Carolina.

The mailing are from the Center for Voter Information and the Voter Participation Center and include 2020 state absentee voter request forms.

These letters are from third parties, not the state board of elections. Dozens of ABC11 viewers reached out saying they didn't request the forms and want to know why they're getting them.

"What we're trying to do is help more and more people in North Carolina and other states to vote at home," said Page Gardner founder for the Center of Voter Information.

Just in North Carolina alone, Gardner says about 1.8 million of these mailing went out to voters.

"We are really trying to send early as many requests for ballots as we possibly can. Recognizing, we're in a pandemic and recognizing people want to vote from home in a safe way," she said.

If you get one of these forms from a third party, make sure you look at where you mail in the documents.

In some cases the envelope included does go to the Wake County Board of Elections.

"It goes straight to the elections officials, and that's how it's been designed forever and we are in contact with elections officials, as we start every single mailing we let them know. We are doing a vote by mail mailing or a registration mailing tell them how many pieces. So we are trying to be very good partners with the state as well as very transparent," Gardner said.

While the NC State Board of Elections says third party groups like the Center for Voter Information are allowed to send out these voter request forms, they say the can also be confusing or frustrating for voters and erode confidence in elections, especially when they are unsolicited.

The State Board says they do review mailings and other communications from third parties to ensure compliance with state and federal laws and to attempt to avoid voter confusion and anger.

"The State and County Boards of Elections encourage third-party groups to consider the overwhelming toll that misleading or confusing mailings and other outreach efforts take on elections resources and the damage they cause to voters' confidence in elections," said Karen Brinson Bell, executive director of the NC Board of Elections. "We need our elections officials to be focused on serving more than 7 million voters during a pandemic."

There are other ways voters can get this information.

"If you concerned whether a voter registration application or absentee ballot request form is legitimate, then discard it and download an application or absentee request form from the state board's website," she said.
For voters, elections officials offer the following tips for dealing with the onslaught of mail, phone calls and text messages this election season:

1) Rely on official sources, especially your state and county elections officials, for accurate information about elections and the voting process. Third-party mailings and other outreach materials may be misleading or false. Go to NCSBE.gov or your county board's website for accurate and up-to-date information about elections. Follow the State Board of Elections on social media.
2) Check your voter registration status with the State Board's "Voter Search" tool. If you are not registered or want to update your registration, download, complete and sign a North Carolina Voter Registration. Return the application to your county board of elections. If you are an existing NCDMV customer, you can register to vote or change certain parts of your registration online here free of charge.

3) Request an absentee ballot by going to NCSBE.gov and downloading a 2020 Absentee Ballot Request Form. The law has changed to allow request forms to be transmitted to the county board of elections office via fax or email, in addition to by mail or in person. The status of your absentee ballot request remains confidential - and cannot be viewed in your online voter record - until your marked ballot is returned to the county board office. The voter or voter's near relative or legal guardian can still contact the county board of elections to receive that information. Absentee ballots will be mailed to voters who requested them beginning September 4.
4) If you have concerns about a mailing, please contact the group responsible for the mailing. There is rarely anything elections officials can do to stop outreach efforts.
5) State and county elections officials are not associated with third-party groups that send out mass mailings or text messages.
6) Elections officials do not randomly call or text residents to encourage them to register to vote or request absentee ballots.
7) Elections officials do not verify the accuracy of data, such as voter record data, provided by third parties in their mailings. State and county elections officials do not go door-to-door to register voters or encourage them to request absentee ballots.
8) Always ask voter registration workers who come to your door to verify their identities and organizations. If someone refuses, call the State Board office at 919-814-0700 and ask for the Investigations Division.

"We know these groups are often well intended and we certainly do not want to discourage folks from being active participants in our democracy," said Brinson Bell. "But we must make sure that these actions do not prohibit, impair, or cause voters not to be active participants in democracy."
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