With Election Day less than a month away, Republican and unaffiliated voters now account for about 3 percentage points apiece more of Wilkes County’s electorate than at this time before the last presidential election four years ago.

Democratic Party registration in Wilkes dropped by about 5 ½ percentage points from its total in 2016. Wilkes had 42,886 registered voters by Saturday, including 22,914 Republicans (54%), 11,576 unaffiliated (27%) and 8,195 Democrats (19%).

At this point in 2016, Wilkes County’s 42,321 registered voters included 21,629 Republicans (51%), 10,309 Democrats (24.5%) and 10,179 unaffiliated (24%). A little less than a month before Election Day in 2012, the county’s 41,933 registered voters included 21,612 Republicans (51.5%), 11,520 Democrats (27.5%) and 8,736 unaffiliated (21%).

The statewide registration by Saturday was 36% Democratic, 33% unaffiliated and 30% Republican. Libertarian, Constitution and Green accounted for the rest.

Registration deadlineThe deadline for registering to vote on Election Day (Nov. 3) is 5 p.m. Friday, Oct. 9. Completed voter registration forms must be postmarked on or before Oct. 9 if returned by mail.

The forms are available at the Wilkes Board of Elections Office, other locations and at https://s3.amazonaws.com/dl.ncsbe.gov/Voter_Registration/NCVoterRegForm_06W.pdf.

People can review their voter registration at Check Voter Registration or by calling the Wilkes Board of Elections office at 336-651-7339.

Early votingIn addition, registering to vote and voting at the same time and place are available during one-stop, early voting from Oct. 15-31 at the Wilkesboro Civic Center on School Street in Wilkesboro and the Edwin McGee Natural Resource Center at 928 Fairplains Road, North Wilkesboro.

Weekday hours are 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Oct. 15-30. Saturday hours are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Oct. 17 and 24 and 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Oct. 31.

Absentee votingMore Wilkes Countians have already cast absentee ballots than they normally do in an entire general presidential election, said Wilkes Board of Elections Director Kim Caudill.

According to the State Board of Elections website, 1,924 absentee ballots were cast in Wilkes and received by election officials by Monday morning. That’s a record 4.5% of the registered voters in Wilkes.

A record 5% of registered voters statewide cast absentee ballots by Monday morning. Among those 359,490 voters, 52% were Democrats, 30% unaffiliated and 17% were Republicans.

There were 1,419 absentee ballots cast in Wilkes and approved by the Wilkes Board of Elections in the 2012 general election and 1,066 in the 2016 general election.

“Many voters are casting their ballots by mail for the first time, so some mistakes are expected,” said State Board of Elections Director Karen Brinson Bell. “We strongly encourage voters to carefully read the instructions and be sure to complete all required fields on the envelope.”

Five-member county boards of elections are responsible for reviewing completed absentee ballots to make sure they meet requirements. Caudill said approved absentee ballots are fed into a tabulator but aren’t counted until Election Day.

The Wilkes Board of Elections approved 2,077 absentee ballots in the first three of 11 weekly meetings for reviewing completed absentee ballots. This included 1,610 absentee ballots on Sept. 29, followed by 232 on Friday and 235 on Tuesday.

Board members are checking the cover of each envelope for the signature of the voter and the signature, printed name and address of a witness. They’re also making sure envelopes are sealed correctly. If the voter received assistance marking or mailing the ballot, the assistant’s name, address and signature must be provided.

Among absentee ballots reviewed at the Sept. 29 Wilkes Board of Elections meeting, one wasn’t sealed and another was damaged and had been taped. Both voters were sent replacement ballots to complete.

Two absentee ballots reviewed at the Sept. 29 meeting were put on hold because signed names on the envelopes didn’t match those on the ballots.

A federal judge’s ruling saying the state must give voters a chance to remedy any fixable ballot problems resulted in unresolved disagreements between Democratic and Republican leaders over how to do this.

Caudill said that on Monday, the State Board of Elections office directed county boards to start securely storing all absentee ballots that are deficient in any way. Before then, voters were being allowed to remedy deficiencies such as improperly sealed ballots and only ballots missing a required signature were being set aside for later action.

Election officials received 4,521 completed absentee ballot request forms from Wilkes by Sept. 29. Over 1 million requests have been received statewide, which is about 10 times greater than they were at this point in the election four years ago.

Elections officials are urging absentee voters to request and return their ballots as soon as possible, as well as read the instructions closely. Ballots must be postmarked on or before Election Day, but election officials recommend putting them in the mail at least a week before the election, or Oct. 27.

Voters can track their completed and mailed absentee ballots at https://www.ncsbe.gov/voting/votemail/ absentee-ballot-tools.

New polling placesThe Wilkes Board of Elections moved the polling places for several precincts because larger locations were needed to maintain social distancing requirements. These changes are for the Nov. 3 election only.

The polling place for Rock Creek 2 Precinct was moved from the Knotville Fire Station to the Edwin H. McGee Natural Resources Center on Fairplains Road.

The polling place for Brushy Mountain Precinct was moved from the Brushy Mountain Fire Station to the Brushy Mountain Community Center next door on Brushy Mountain Road.

The polling place for Edwards 2 Precinct was moved from the Roaring River Elementary School media center to the school cafeteria.

The polling place for Walnut Grove Precinct was moved from the office lobby at North Wilkes High School to the school’s media center.

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