Voting is complicated. Before You Vote is a new podcast from The Daily Tar Heel's City and State desk breaking down all you need to know about voting before the 2020 election.
City & State Editor Sonia Rao talks to Karen Brinson-Bell, executive director of the N.C. State Board of Elections, and UNC student Leighann Vinesett, about how to vote in the upcoming election.
The transcript of Tuesday’s episode is available below:
Sonia Rao: Voting is complicated, especially for college students, who are often first-time voters, or have just moved to a new county or state.
Voting during a pandemic is even more complicated.
I’m Sonia Rao, the City & State Editor for The Daily Tar Heel. Welcome to Before You Vote, where we’ll be breaking down what you need to know about voting every Tuesday until Election Day.
AD: This podcast is sponsored by Vote America. Reminder: Election Day is Nov. 3. As a North Carolina student you can register now using your campus or home address. You can vote early, you can vote by mail, or you can vote in person on Election Day. Make your plan at VoteAmerica.com/Students.
SR: In this episode, we’ll be talking about how to vote in North Carolina.
The first step is registering to vote.
Karen Brinson Bell, the executive director of the N.C. Board of Elections, said individuals can register to vote at any N.C. DMV, or access a voter registration form online at the state board website, ncsbe.gov. They can also get a form at their county board of elections website.
She said they should download the registration form, complete it and mail it or drop it off at their county board of elections office.
Brinson-Bell said there are also other options for registering to vote online.
KB: The other option that we have now is an online voter registration process where that also can be accessed at the state board or county board website. And that's in partnership with DMV, and that allows for someone who is a DMV customer, but has not registered to vote or who needs to update their information to do so because they're an existing DMV customer. But they don't need to do a DMV transaction in order to register or update their voter registration information.
SR: Many college students have been displaced this semester due to the pandemic, and are unsure of what address they should put down when registering to vote. Brinson-Bell said voter registration is about where you consider your residence to be.
KB: So that means for college students, they could be registered at their campus address, or they could be registered in what they consider to be their hometown or their home county.
SR: If you’re a college student who moved away from campus because of COVID-19, and were registered to vote with your campus address, Brinson-Bell said you can request an absentee ballot from your university’s county board of elections, or even come back to the county during early voting or on Election Day to vote in person.
She said if you want to vote in your hometown or home county, you can register to vote at that address, too.
But what if you’ve already registered to vote, and you just want to change your address?
KB: It's simply to fill out the voter registration information again, you could also do that through the online process that I mentioned with DMV through our state board website or county board website.
SR: The deadline to register to vote in North Carolina is Oct. 9. However, if you miss that deadline, you can register to vote using same-day registration at early voting sites in your county.
Once you register to vote, there are several options to cast your ballot.
The first option is voting by mail.
This year, you can request your absentee ballot online at www.ncsbe.gov.
KB: The packet can be mailed to any address that the voter requests, it doesn't have to be where they're registered to vote. That request can also be made by a near relative or legal guardian. So sometimes with college students, their parents might make the request for them. And that's certainly permissible.
SR: Once you receive your ballot in the mail, you fill it out and have a witness sign it, and then send it to your county board of elections office.
KB: They're attesting that they saw the voter marking their ballot, and the witness has information to complete with printing their name and providing their address and then the witness sign. And then once that's completed the voter signs as well. The ballot gets put into the envelope sealed up, and then the voter should go through the process of mailing it or having it delivered in person. And North Carolina requires that a ballot be returned by the voter near relatives or her legal guardian.
SR: Brinson Bell said people can track their absentee ballots online at www.ballottrax.net.
KB: We launched BallotTrax, which is a tool that will allow folks who requested absentee ballot to sign up for alerts where they can find out where their ballot is in the process, whether it's been mailed to them, or once they complete the absentee ballot where it is in the mail stream and the return to the county board of elections, that those alerts, they sign up to receive that as a text message, an email or a voice message.That's a new tool that we have in place, and hopefully will help alleviate some concerns. Especially because we have so many people voting absentee by mail this year.
SR: So, you receive your absentee ballot and fill it out. When should you turn in by?
KB: The absentee request needs to be made by Oct. 27. And that's actually the date, we also recommend people put their ballot back into the mail. So there's a little bit of overlap. But we know that this is a large volume for the postal service to be handling. So we are suggesting that people do that October 27. And to put it back in the mail, because what's really key North Carolina is that it must be postmarked election day. And in received at the county board of elections by November the sixth in order for us to count it. So that's why we're encouraging people go ahead and make the request, mark the ballot and get it back to us. Because right now, we have plenty of time between now and Election Day, and that when that post mark is needed, but the closer we get the the harder it's going to be to ensure that everything done in a timely manner and is postmarked the way we need it to be.
SR: if you’re physically dropping off your absentee ballot, Brinson Bell said it must be delivered in person by 5:00 p.m. on Election Day.
For those who want to vote in person, the early voting period is Oct. 15 through Oct. 31. During this time, voters can show up to any early voting location when they are open and cast the same ballot as given on Election Day.
On Election Day, Nov. 3, registered voters can vote at their assigned polling place from 6:30 a.m. until 7:30 p.m.
Registered voters are not required to show an ID at the polling place.
Polling sites are in different locations for early voting and Election Day voting, and they can be found on your county board of election’s website.
Brinson Bell said if you’ve requested an absentee ballot but change your mind and decide you want to vote in person, you’re still able to do so.
KB: Let's say for example, though, that someone decides they'd rather go and vote in person. And that's also allowed. We do not require once you receive that ballot, if you decide you want to vote in person having received the ballot does not mark you as having voted, it's once the county board receives the mark and return ballot, that person is considered having voted. So if someone opted to not vote absentee ballot, they can discard it. And they can still go vote during the 17 day early voting period, which for all counties is October 15 through 31st. And then, or they can choose to the election day at their precinct polling place, which that is specific to their voter registration.
SR: It takes a few steps to register to vote and cast your ballot. But is it hard? I talked to UNC sophomore Leighann Vinesett about her experience voting by mail this fall.
Leighann: I'm from in North Carolina, but I'm from Charlotte. So that's Mecklenburg County. I'm in District 12
SR: Although Vinesett voted in the March primary, this is the first general election she’s voted in. And she said her voting plans have shifted a lot since March.
LV: Before the pandemic, my thoughts about voting was that I would, you know, go in person, like, to the precinct in, you know, Orange County here that, like, I would either get a registration here or, you know, absentee ballot, but I thought I would probably go in person, then COVID happened, and I was like, Okay, well, let's wait this out and see, um, and then kind of by like, August, I was like, I don't really feel comfortable going in person. And I knew that absentee voting was an option.
SR: She said she sent in an absentee ballot request form in early August.
LV: it was kind of a waiting game to get that. Um, so just waiting for my absentee ballot, like my mail in ballot to get here to my Chapel Hill residents and then it finally did I live with other people. So I saw there's pouring in, I was like, getting kind of worried and sad. But mine finally came. And then I kind of actually waited. Like, even though I had it in hand, like I was like, just scared of it. Because I was like, This is crazy. And like, it's I feel like it's such an important decision. It's such a monumental year and election that I was just kind of like I had needed to take a breath.
SR: And once she got her ballot, it wasn’t over — she had to figure out who she wanted to vote for.
LV: Finally I was like I am going to dedicate two hours and look up all of these names. Like I knew that was gonna be the hardest part. So did that and started bubbling as I went along, you know, making sure that I have like a black pen like everything was right because it's a lot of acrylic rules. Um, so it's like okay to make sure that everything is okay. So, did that belt, hold it in took like an hour and a half. It was a while. I feel like but then, you know, close it up, put it in and below. Sign the back had a witness sign. The back and I actually put a Scooby Doo stamp on there. So I hope they love that. And then I walked across campus and put it in a mailbox.
SR: Vinesett said even though this was one of her first times voting, it wasn’t a difficult process.
LV: this is my first time voting in a presidential election. And it's my first time voting absentee. So hadn't really had a lot of experience before. But I am like, pretty plugged in, like, socially, into politics and all the happenings around voting and like, I've helped many of my friends registered to vote and request their absentee ballot. So it didn't really scare me at all. Like, technically, and then like, I found it very easy. Like I said, it was even before like, online, things were like, I think, in September that the State Board of Elections made some things easier to, you know, register online request online, like that. I went through that process people and that's even easier. Um, it literally took me two minutes.
SR: She said young voters shouldn’t be intimidated by the voting process.
LV: Voting is not as intimidating as older generations have probably made it out to be too many of us who are, you know, Gen Z youth voters or even older than that, but first time voters registration is extremely easy. requesting an absentee ballot is extremely easy. Even voting in person is extremely easy and finding your precinct.
I think it's really important. It will impact you whether you vote or not, so why don't you just go ahead and use your voice if you have it?
SR: There are 10 days left to register to vote in North Carolina. There are 16 days left until early voting starts. There are 28 days left to request an absentee ballot. And there are 35 days left until election day.
We want you to tell us what to cover this election cycle. Take five minutes to fill out our survey by texting DTHELECTIONS to 73-224.
If you have any questions about voting you’d like us to answer, you can send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tune in next Tuesday to listen to us break down the candidates on the ballot.
This episode is produced by Meredith Radford, and reported on by Kayleigh Carpenter.
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