With ballots now getting sent out, local officials have initiated the first step of the vote-by-mail process. Ballots should start arriving in the next two weeks, and voters can then fill them out and send them back, either by dropping them in the mail or bringing them to an election office.
Millions of registered voters across the country have already requested mail ballots. This astronomical increase from 2016 reflects the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, which triggered historic interest in mail-in voting options that keep people away from polling places.
Tar Heel politics
Both campaigns are eyeing North Carolina’s 15 electoral votes. They’ve spent a combined $32 million on television ads in the state, split evenly, according to data from CMAG/Kantar Media.
The Trump campaign says it has knocked on more than 425,000 doors and called more than 4.7 million voters in North Carolina. The campaign also says it’s benefiting from recent voter registration trends, which indicate that the historical Democratic edge in the state is shrinking.
The Biden campaign says it has called more than 3 million North Carolina voters, and recruited 3,400 volunteers and 200 current or former elected officials to mobilize their supporters. Biden is outspending Trump on television, with ads focusing on Trump’s response to the coronavirus.
Polls show a tight race
Biden’s polling position has been buoyed by a respectable second place showing among white voters, coupled with near-universal support from Black voters, who comprise a larger share of the electorate in North Carolina than in other battleground states, like the Rust Belt states.
“Democrats have come so close, so many times,” said Mac McCorkle, a professor at Duke University who has worked in North Carolina politics for 26 years. “Seniors have not deserted Trump like they have in some other states, but he’s not winning them with the same margin he did in 2016. That’s the difference right now. Trump is cooked here if he loses the seniors.”
Surge of postal voting
North Carolina allows “no excuse” absentee voting, which means any registered voter who wants an absentee ballot can get one. So far, more than 618,000 voters requested absentee ballots, far surpassing the approximately 190,000 voters who voted-by-mail in the 2016 election.
The state typically requires two witnesses to sign an absentee ballot, but the state legislature reduced the number to one, to make it easier for people to vote-by-mail during the pandemic.
Witness requirements are one of many protections in place to prevent voter fraud. Ballots are only sent to voters who ask for them and provide personally identifiable information, including their driver’s license number and part of their Social Security number. Voter signatures are matched to old signatures on record. Post-election audits are designed to snuff out fraud.
“Many people are watching North Carolina’s absentee voting process, including candidates, political parties, county boards of elections, and political and data scientists,” said Patrick Gannon, a spokesman for the bipartisan North Carolina State Board of Elections. “If there are anomalies or questionable activities, they will be reported to election officials.”
Shadow of election fraud
All year, Trump has spread false and conspiratorial claims about voter fraud, and even urged supporters in North Carolina to vote twice to test out the system — which is likely illegal.
The alleged ringleader, GOP operative Leslie McCrae Dowless, was charged with 14 state felonies and pleaded not guilty. The cases against Dowless and 10 other defendants are currently in limbo because the state indefinitely suspended all jury trials due to the pandemic.