The early results on mail-in voting from one of the most crucial states in the country are in, and Black voters’ ballots are getting rejected more than four times as often as white voters’ ballots.
Of the more than 60,000 votes cast by white voters so far in North Carolina, 644 had been rejected as of Thursday, at a rate of 1.07 percent. By comparison, 13,539 Black voters had cast their ballots, with 597 rejections—a rate of 4.41 percent. Of the 1,390 ballots that have been rejected in North Carolina, 46% came from white voters and 43% were cast by Black voters. By comparison, 74% of the accepted ballots were cast by white voters and 16% were cast by Black voters.
It’s worth noting that the number of votes rejected is a fraction of those cast, which itself is a fraction of the absentee ballots that will eventually be cast this year across the nation.
But it does follow a worrying trend, especially in a statewide election that’s expected to have several close races including for the presidency and the U.S. Senate: In the state’s March 3 primary, which was held before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, 18% of Black voters’ absentee ballots were rejected, according to voting rights watchdog Democracy NC.
Ballots can be rejected for a number of reasons, including ballot “spoiling” and signature issues, such as a missing signature or a signature in the wrong place. In North Carolina, lawmakers eased absentee ballot restrictions earlier this year, including changing the number of witnesses required to cast a ballot from two to one.
In the state’s March 3 primary, which was held before the COVID-19 pandemic hit and those changes took place, 18% of Black voters’ absentee ballots were rejected, according to voting rights watchdog Democracy NC.
Voters whose ballots are rejected are given the opportunity to fix them, and will be contacted by the county board of elections “when there are deficiencies with their absentee ballot,” according to the North Carolina State Board of Elections. Voters whose ballots are rejected are still able to vote in person as well, though the COVID-19 pandemic is the entire reason why North Carolina and many other states have expanded mail-in voting this year.
After opening up absentee ballot requests over the summer, North Carolina began mailing ballots to voters earlier this month. Nearly 900,000 absentee ballots have been requested, in a state with 7.1 million registered voters.
After months of attacks on mail-in voting by President Doanld Trump, the vast majority of those who’ve voted absentee are Democrats: of the more than 81,000 votes have already been recorded in North Carolina as of Thursday, 55% of those are Democrats and just 15% are affiliated with the GOP. (The state also has a high percentage of voters unaffiliated with either party.)
On Thursday, Trump tweeted, without context, that some people in North Carolina had received two ballots. “RIGGED ELECTION in waiting!” he wrote. In reality, though some 500 voters in the Charlotte area had erroneously received two ballots from the county board of elections due to an issue with the first ballot they received. They are, of course, still only allowed to vote once.
“Each absentee voter has a unique identifier barcode for their return application, and the state system will not permit two ballots from the same person to be accepted or counted,” North Carolina State Board of Elections said executive director Karen Brinson Bell, for whom discrediting rumors spread by Trump is turning into a second job. “Once one ballot is returned and accepted, the voter’s record reflects that he or she has already voted.”
“We want to assure voters that the system is set up to ensure the election will not be affected and no one will be able to vote twice as a result of this incident,” she added.
Cover: A workers prepares absentee ballots for mailing at the Wake County Board of Elections in Raleigh, N.C., Thursday, Sept. 3, 2020. North Carolina is scheduled to begin sending out more than 600,000 requested absentee ballots to voters on Friday. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)