On a midnight trek to a Washington, D.C. bus station, Emily Miller noticed a rat scurrying past her heels. To Miller, it was the perfect metaphor for America’s political state — one she hopes to change, despite never receiving her Durham County absentee ballot.
Fearful her ballot would fail to arrive by the election, Miller packed her bags on Nov. 5 and bought an overnight bus ticket from D.C. to Durham, with a mission to vote and return to work the next day.
As a 22-year-old working for Youth Caucus of America, a non-profit advancing the role of youth in politics, Miller said she was engaged in voter turnout efforts for months, both at her office and in her free-time.
“I felt like considering all the work I had done and conversations I'd had with friends and strangers alike about the importance of voting. It was time to put my ballot where my mouth was," she said.
Her story quickly went viral on Twitter, and her initial tweet documenting her eight-hour bus journey has eclipsed 9,000 retweets and 79,000 likes.
Miller said the tweet garnered national attention after Tommy Vietor, a host of Pod Save America, retweeted her.
“The feedback I received on social media was almost entirely positive, which I think was due in part to the fact that it was a pretty feel-good story: one millennial doing their best to be engaged in our turbulent political process,” Miller said.
Patrick Gannon, spokesperson for the N.C. Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement, said in an email that missing absentee ballots can be the result of individual’s incomplete or inaccurate absentee requests but can also be caused by mail-service problems or human error by an election official.
Gannon said the N.C. BOE system says it mailed Miller’s ballot on Oct. 31.
Weeks after the election, Miller still has not seen the mail-in ballot, and she said it may have been an issue with USPS delivering to her P.O. box. However, Miller said the issue with missing N.C. absentee ballots seems to be widespread.
“I have had a number of people reach out to me via Twitter and say that they also didn't receive their absentee ballot from North Carolina, so it sounds like it could be a problem that many are having across the state,” she said.
Terrell Mwetta, a Buncombe County registered voter and senior at Oregon’s Lewis & Clark College, also encountered obstacles in requesting an N.C. absentee ballot.
“I submitted my ballot request form on Oct. 21, and then it never showed my absentee form was received,” he said.
He monitored the N.C. BOE site until Nov. 3, and because it displayed the same message, he instead registered to vote in Oregon. His N.C. absentee ballot eventually arrived a day prior to the election.
Mwetta said it was frustrating to see other Lewis & Clark students have such ease with voting by mail due to Oregon’s automatic registration process.
“Once you get a driver's license in Oregon, they automatically register you to vote by mail, so everybody receives their ballot 2-3 weeks before the election through mail. So it’s really funny, me on the other hand, having submitted an absentee request to N.C. and didn’t receive any information up to the election," he said.
Miller believes North Carolina’s obstacles in obtaining an absentee ballot are just part of a greater pattern of disenfranchisement in the state.
“Our system of voting in North Carolina is broken, and missing absentee ballots are only one symptom of that. If our state legislature wanted to give voters more ability to easily exercise their constitutional right, they could, and there are many states that have taken meaningful steps towards enfranchising as many voters as possible,” Miller said.
In future elections, Gannon urges N.C. voters who do not receive their absentee ballot to reach out to their county’s board of elections.
“We would recommend that any voter who requests an absentee ballot but doesn’t receive it in a reasonable amount of time contact their county board of elections. Also, if a voter doesn’t receive an absentee ballot in the mail, they may still vote early during the early voting period or on Election Day," he said.
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