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September 26, 2020

Flood of election-related mail raises concerns from local voters

By Natalie Anderson
natalie.anderson@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — As third-party organizations flood citizens with election-related mail, text messages and phone calls, state and local elections officials say they understand the confusion and suspicion but that the communication is normal.

Third-party political and advocacy groups are urging residents to request absentee by-mail ballots or register to vote ahead of the Nov. 3 general election. Rowan County Elections Director Brenda McCubbins said it’s normal for the organizations to mass mail and flood voters’ phones with these during a presidential election.

However, she said, the board has received numerous calls from concerned citizens questioning why they’re receiving an absentee ballot request form without asking for one directly from the board. Additionally, people are concerned with the legality and authenticity of the forms.

The county board says some forms are valid and can be trusted. But a red flag, for example, includes any form pre-filled with any information. This occurred with the first wave of third-party outreach this election cycle, McCubbins said, but fortunately, it was brought to elections officials’ attention immediately. Few of those requests had been submitted.

In a statement on Thursday, state Elections Executive Director Karen Brinson Bell said that while these efforts are typically legal, they can be confusing or frustrating for voters, resulting in eroded confidence in elections particularly when the outreach is unsolicited.

Brinson Bell added that the state board offers to review mailings and other forms of communications for third parties to ensure they comply with state and federal laws and 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,” she said. “We need our elections officials to be focused on serving more than 7 million voters during a pandemic.”

The state board offers the following tips for dealing with the onslaught of mail, phone calls and text messages:

• 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.
• Check your voter registration status with the state board’s “voter search” tool, which can be found at ncsbe.gov. If you are not registered or want to update your registration, download, complete and sign a North Carolina voter registration application. 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 at ncdot.gov free of charge.
• 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.
• State and county elections officials are not associated with third-party groups that send out mass mailings or text messages.
• Elections officials do not randomly call or text residents to encourage them to register to vote or request absentee ballots.
• 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.
• 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,” Brinson Bell said. “But we must make sure that these actions do not prohibit, impair or cause voters not to be active participants in democracy.”

If locals are still suspicious or unsure of the validity, McCubbins encourages them to download and print absentee ballot request forms directly from the state Board of Election’s website at ncsbe.gov or the county website at rowancountync.gov/elections. Locals can also contact the board directly at 704-216-8140.

Absentee ballot requests can be submitted to the county board of elections office via fax, email, mail or in person. The status of an absentee ballot request remains confidential and cannot be viewed in one’s online voter record until the 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 beginning Sept. 4 to voters who requested them. As of Friday, McCubbins said the county has received nearly 1,700 absentee ballot requests. Only around 300 absentee ballots were mailed on the first day to voters who requested them in 2016, signifying an anticipated significant increase in the amount of mail-in voting this year.

Contact reporter Natalie Anderson at 704-797-4246.

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