Court battles had halted processing of returned ballots mailed with deficiencies from Oct. 4 until the state issued new guidelines on Monday. State and federal judges temporarily froze key parts of the process amid lawsuits over what to do with ballots that lacked a witness’s signature and other information.
State and county officials, many of whom work late at night, said it would take several days to inform at least 10,000 voters who voted with problems.
An uneven landscape emerged the day after the new rules were announced: some counties said they had virtually eliminated the backlog, but some voters elsewhere said they had not yet been contacted.
In Durham, unaffiliated 24-year-old voter Stéphane Prieto was surprised Tuesday afternoon when a reporter told him his ballot had been marked as containing incomplete information about witnesses. The state’s database did not specify exactly what was missing, but if its ballot does not have a witness signature, it will have to file another.
“It’s a little worrying,” she said of the prospect of getting and casting a new ballot so close to the election.
Prieto, a part-time home caregiver who voted for Joe Biden, said his mother witnessed his ballot and mailed it on October 6.
“She was right next to me,” Prieto said as he filled out her ballot. “She signed it and, you know, we filled it out. It should have been OK.
The County of Durham chief electoral officer did not respond to an email from the PA seeking comment.
The North Carolina State Council of Elections said that as of Monday, about 10,000 ballots statewide had various deficiencies. But that number could be higher because counties have been instructed not to enter ballots with errors into a statewide database while the processing of defective ballots is frozen. During the two-week freeze, voters were not contacted about ballot errors.
Council executive director Karen Brinson Bell said it would take counties several days to integrate the backlog of deficient ballots into the system to provide a complete picture of the number of ballots statewide . Yet Bell said she hopes that by early next week “these voters should have their documents in hand and be able to return them to us.”
Until Tuesday afternoon, over 2 million early votes cast in North Carolina, including over 600,000 by mail.
State law requires absent voters to have another adult to attend the poll and sign and print their name on the outer envelope. A federal judge ruled last week that mail ballots without a witness’s signature required the voter to restart the process and see it again.
Redrafted absentee ballots can be mailed or returned by hand to county election commissions or advance poll sites. Or these people can also vote in person.
Meanwhile, a federal appeals court ruled Tuesday night that North Carolina may accept mail-in ballots that are postmarked on election day for more than a week after. The decision on the Nov. 12 deadline for ballots to reach county councils stemmed from the same legal fight over the witness requirement.
North Carolina was won by Donald Trump in 2016 by 3.66%, and will be one of the battlefield states that Joe Biden aims to win on November 3.