RALEIGH — A record number of North Carolinians are choosing to vote by mail this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but there are strict rules and deadlines associated with mailing and postmarking ballots.
Ballots will be accepted as long as they arrive by Nov. 12 with a clear postmark dating no later than Election Day, Nov. 3.
But as the U.S. Postal Service remains in the spotlight because of its delays in delivering ballots during crucial primaries and local elections this year, many voters are concerned about the process.
Will the Post Office automatically postmark all ballots, or do you have to ask for it? Are special stamps required for mailing the ballot?
We have the answers to your most common questions about why a postmark is needed, what types of stamps you need, and who should drop off your ballot if you can't.
What is a postmark?
A postmark is an official mark applied to an already-stamped envelope which indicates the location and date the local Post Office accepted and processed the envelope.
Local postmarks normally show the name of the post office, the state and zip code, and the date and time of mailing.
Remember that due to different mail pick-up times, your absentee ballot might not be postmarked the same day you drop it off at the Post Office or at a drop box.
Election officials recommend that you mail your ballot as soon as possible, ideally by Tuesday, Oct. 27, to make sure it's postmarked well before the Election Day deadline.
What mail is actually postmarked, and why would a ballot not be postmarked?
Letters with an official stamp, or first-class mail, are always postmarked, according to the U.S. Postal Service. Other types of mail, including those with an electronic stamp or one sold by a private vendor and not acquired at the Post Office, are not postmarked.
However, the Postal Service has said its policy is to postmark all ballots mailed by voters, whether they have been prepaid by election officials or if the voter uses a stamp.
But the problem might lay if the county board of elections receives a ballot with an illegible postmark.
What if the postmark on my ballot isn't clear?
If the postmark on your ballot isn't clear and it arrives after the Nov. 12 deadline, it will be most likely discarded along with other ballots missing a postmark.
But, if your ballot arrives before the deadline and it's lacking a postmark or it isn't legible, it is up to the county board of elections officials to decide whether your ballot will be counted or thrown out.
A legal memo prepared for the State Board of Elections in September acknowledged the issue with postmarks, and advised that a ballot without a postmark may be tracked using BallotTrax, the state's free software available for voters to track their absentee ballots from when they are mailed to when they are counted, to determine if the ballot was sent before Election Day.
Do I need to hand my ballot to a Post Office employee and request a postmark?
You can hand your ballot to an employee at your local Post Office, but it is not mandatory.
As long as you pay the 55-cent postage in advance and place it on your return envelope, according to the State Board of Elections, you can drop it off at a USPS drop box — but remember that it may not be postmarked the same day.
If you decide to hand it to a Post Office employee, you can ask them to postmark your return envelope by hand in front of you to ensure that it is postmarked.
Can somebody else drop off my ballot for me?
Yes, but only if you have a disability.
You can direct whoever witnessed you fill out your ballot to deposit the sealed envelope at a USPS mailbox. The person assisting you should sign the Voter Assistant Certification on the back of the ballot envelope.