Many more Americans than normal are expected to vote absentee by mail this fall due to the pandemic.

Election officials have worked for many months in North Carolina to ensure accessible, safe and accurate elections in 2020, including by mail-in absentee ballots.

North Carolina historically has one of the lowest rates of voting-by-mail among battleground states, but some political pundits predict up to 40% of the ballots will be cast by mail this year. When the last election with a presidential race was on the ballot in 2016, about 5% voting in the state was absentee, by-mail.

A bi-partisan election reform bill recently approved in the North Carolina legislature requires that the state elections board establish an online absentee ballot request portal for North Carolina voters, who formerly could only request them by mail or in person. For all elections in 2020, the law reduced the number of witnesses who must sign a voter’s absentee ballot from two to one.

Unlike some states, North Carolina doesn’t require that registered voters have any special circumstance or reason to request, receive and vote a mail-in absentee ballot.

Details on how to obtain and cast absentee ballots by mail are at https://www.ncsbe.gov/Voting-Options/Absentee-Voting, at https://www.wilkescounty.net/532/AbsenteeOne-Stop-Voting or you can call the Wilkes Board of Elections Office at 336-651-7339.

Last week, the State Board of Elections issued a statement about the security of absentee voting by mail in North Carolina. Here are 12 reasons why absentee by-mail voting is safe and secure in this state:

1. Election officials send absentee ballots only to registered voters who request them using official request forms.

2. The voter or their near relative must fill out and sign the ballot request form. Required information includes the voter’s date of birth and the voter’s driver’s license number or last four digits of their Social Security number.

3. Fraudulently completing the ballot request form is a Class I felony.

4. In 2020, voters must vote their ballot in the presence of one witness. The witness must sign the absentee return envelope, certifying that the voter marked his or her ballot and is the registered voter submitting the ballot.

5. Only the voter or his or her near relative or legal guardian may return the ballot. County boards of elections keep a log of who drops off absentee ballots.

6. Upon return, the county board of elections reviews the absentee envelope to ensure compliance with the legal requirements.

7. Once the ballot is accepted, the voter is marked in the system as having voted in that election. If the voter tries to vote in person, poll workers will know the person already submitted an absentee ballot.

8. Data on who has requested absentee ballots is now confidential until Election Day. This reduces the ability of third parties to attempt to tamper with ballots, as they will not know who has requested a ballot or when ballots are sent out.

9. Criminal penalties have been increased for absentee voting fraud-related offenses.

10. Many people are watching North Carolina’s absentee voting process. If there are anomalies or questionable activities, they will be reported to election officials.

11. The State Board Investigations Division, which has a team of experienced investigators, investigates credible allegations of election fraud and refers cases to prosecutors when warranted by the evidence.

12. The State Board conducts post-election audits to catch any inconsistencies, which can then be investigated by the board or the investigations division.

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