People enter and exit a polling station at the Stedman Community Building on September 10, 2019. A special election was held for voters in the 9th congressional district of North Carolina after a charges of voter fraud in the previous election. [Melissa Sue Gerrits/For Carolina Public Press]

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2020 is a major elections year in North Carolina, with voters making choices for federal, state and local offices.

Carolina Public Press has compiled 18 of the most frequently asked questions about this year’s elections and provided answers, as well as helpful links to other sites with tools that voters can use to conduct their own research.

Question 1: How do I find out where my precinct is? 

You can use the Voter Lookup Tool from the N.C. Board of Elections.

The state board put together a number of tools to find your registration, your polling place, your one-stop voting site and to track your provisional ballot.

Question 2: What’s the elections calendar for 2020? 

You can find the full elections calendar on the N.C. Board of Elections website. That’s also where you will find all your official elections information for the state. You can print out a wall calendar for the entire year here.

The major upcoming North Carolina elections dates to remember for 2020 are:

  • Feb. 29: End of one-stop voting for the primaries.
  • March 3: Primary election day.
  • March 13: Counties canvass the primary election.
  • March 16: Deadline for counties to conduct recounts.
  • March 17: Deadline for state to conduct recounts and accept protests.
  • June 8: Filing opens for candidates running for soil and water district seats.
  • July 2: Filing ends for soil and water candidates.
  • Sept. 4: Absentee voting begins for the general election.
  • Oct. 9: Voter registration deadline for general election.
  • Oct. 15: One-stop voting begins for general election.
  • Oct. 27: Absentee voting deadline for general election.
  • Oct. 31: One-stop voting ends for general election.
  • Nov. 3: General election day.
  • Nov. 6: Deadline for mailed absentee ballots to be received.
  • Nov. 13: Counties canvass the general election.
  • Nov. 16: Deadline to conduct any county recounts.
  • Nov. 17: Deadline to conduct any state recounts and receive protests.
  • Nov. 24: State canvasses election results.

Question 3: Do I have to show a picture ID when I show up to vote in the primary? If not, what should I do if someone asks to see my photo ID?

No, with one very uncommon exception. A measure was in place to require photo ID for all voters, but it has been blocked by the courts.

The only people who will need to show any identification are newly registered voters who are voting for the first time and who did not supply a driver’s license number on their voter registration. Those folks will have an option for what to supply, including a utility bill, bank statement, government check, paycheck, a current and valid photo ID or other government document that shows the current name and address of the voter – that needs to match the voter registration.

So, if someone asks you to see photo ID, make sure they are an election official. If they are not, report them to the election officials.

If they are an election official, ask them why you need to show a photo ID. If they describe the above situation, and that indeed applies to you, you’ll need to provide some form of ID, though it does not necessarily need to have your photo on it.

If they give any other reason or say it is required to vote, that is not accurate. Ask to see the chief election judge at the precinct to sort it out.

If the problem persists, report the issue to the N.C. Board of Elections using this incident report form.

You can also reach out to news media organizations, including Carolina Public Press.

Question 4: Do I need to have my voter registration card with me to vote?

No.

Question 5: If I show up at the precinct and they don’t have me down on the registration list to vote there, am I out of luck, or is there something I can do?

You can vote with a provisional ballot. There should be a Help Station at every precinct. The poll workers there will help you cast your provisional ballot. Provisional ballots often require follow-up. Make sure you’re clear on if you need to follow up at the county office with any information and on what timeline.

Question 6: If I’m a registered Democrat or Republican or unaffiliated, what does that mean about how I vote and whom I can vote for in the primary and general elections? 

North Carolina has semiclosed primaries. That means that partisan races are only open to voters of the same political party and, if the party allows it, unaffiliated voters. In the March 3 primary in North Carolina, unaffiliated voters can choose to vote in the Democratic, Libertarian or Republican primaries. Members of those parties cannot vote in primaries of other parties.

Question 7: If I vote for a candidate in the primary, do I have to stick with that person in the general election?

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No. That person may not even make it to the general election. But even if that candidate does, you are free to vote for someone else in the fall.

Question 8: If I vote in the primary for a certain party, do I have to support that party’s candidates in the fall?

No. The general election is open to all voters, meaning they are not tied to voting for a party, as is the case in the primaries. A registered Democrat can vote for a Republican, and vice versa, for any race on the ballot.

Question 9: If I’m registered unaffiliated, can I participate in the primary of a party that I don’t like in order to pick candidates whom I want to lose in the general election?

Yes. Just remember that strategy can backfire if those candidate you don’t surprise you in the general election. You also have to vote for whichever party you chose in all races. If you have this strategy in mind for the presidential primary, for example, you would not be able to vote for the candidates of some other party for governor or other offices.

Question 10: If I early-voted ahead of the March 3 primary for a presidential candidate who drops out after one of the other state primaries, what happens to my vote?

The ballots are already set. Your vote will stay with that candidate.

The primary elections in North Carolina will feature several races in addition to the presidential race. Voting the entire ballot will help ensure your vote counts for other federal, state and countywide races even if your preferred presidential candidate drops out.

Question 11: If I live in a county that uses a hand-marked ballot that gets scanned by a machine, how can I be sure that my ballot is counted correctly?

The state performs a number of audits to ensure the ballots are counted correctly. The current postelection audit, called a sample audit, is only designed to check the top race on the ballot.

Four counties — Mecklenburg, Madison, Buncombe and Union — will pilot more stringent audits, called risk-limiting audits, in the primary. These audits will check every race on the ballot. The state board has announced aspirations to roll out risk-limiting audits statewide by November.

Question 12: If I live in a county that uses a touchscreen ballot and am given a printout to be scanned, how can I be sure that my ballot shows what I intended and is counted correctly?

This will require a lot of attention from the voter. First, review your selections on the touchscreen before printing the ballot summary card. Then, carefully review the card to be sure it printed the correct information. Recent research shows that voters are unlikely to check their ballots or to catch errors when they do check. If you bring a prefilled sample ballot, which can be found by looking up your voter registration, you’re more likely to catch errors, the study showed.

The precinct or early voting site will have a poll worker next to the ballot scanner asking voters if they verified their ballots. There will also be signage in the precincts and early voting sites directing voters to verify, or check, their ballots.

If you discover an error on your ballot, do not submit the ballot to the scanner. Report the error to the poll workers. Ask to spoil your ballot. You can vote with a new ballot. Be sure to verify that one as well.

There should never be a difference between a voter’s selections on a touchscreen and the selections printed on the ballot card. It will be impossible to tell whether the difference is due to voter error or machine error.

A voter who finds a difference may also want to report the situation to the N.C. Board of Elections using the incident report form. You can also reach out to news media organizations, including Carolina Public Press.

If you do reach out, be prepared to answer a lot of questions. Though this may be an inconvenience, reporting errors is still very important. Any agency you report to will have to verify, to the best of their ability, that your report is true.

For the counting of the ballots, the same audits that are performed on hand-marked paper ballots are also performed on machine-marked ballots. For top-of-the-ballot races, the sample audit every county will perform will check the human-readable against the barcodes printed on the ballots, which are what is actually read by the scanner. In counties with risk-limiting audits, every race will be checked against the barcodes.

Question 13: People near the polling place often hand out literature or ask me to support certain candidates. How should I deal with them? If I think they are being too pushy or working too close to the polling station, what should I do about it?

You can ignore them or go have a chat. It’s up to you, as long as they’re outside the “buffer zone.”

There is an area around every polling place where that activity is not accepted. There should be a sign or clear delineation of that boundary. If campaigning is happening within the boundary, or if campaigners are being particularly aggressive, you can report them to the poll worker.

If the campaigners are being very aggressive or intimidating, report that behavior immediately to the N.C. Board of Elections. You can also reach out to news media organizations, including Carolina Public Press.

Question 14: I vote at a church and have sometimes seen posters that the church has put up in the polling area about political issues, such as abortion, gay marriage, the environment, capital punishment or support for the president. Is there anything I can do about displays like this at my polling place that I might find intimidating?   

You can bring the posters to the attention of the precinct judge, the head poll worker at that location. You can also file an incident report form with the N.C. Board of Elections.

Question 15: Is my spouse or other friend or relative allowed to go in to the polling booth with me to help me vote?

No, unless you specifically request assistance due to a disability or if the voter is not English-language proficient. The person assisting you must be a near relative. Employers and union representatives are explicitly barred from helping you.

If you request assistance, a chief judge or another one of the election judges will be able to provide aid.

If voters are physically impaired from accessing the polling place, they can use curbside voting.

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Voters who require assistance, such as voters with disabilities who cannot mark a paper ballot, can vote on the touchscreen voting machine that will be available in every precinct. That can be done independently. Unless specifically requested by the voter, the voter’s spouse cannot assist in the process.

Question 16: If I don’t want my spouse or someone else who is with me to see how I’m voting, what can I do about it?

Every person is entitled to a secret ballot. The standard setup at any precinct will prevent any other person in the precinct from seeing how you voted. If a spouse or anyone else tries to view your ballot, alert a poll worker.

Question 17: I have an elderly friend who has dementia and for more than a year has not been able to indicate how she would vote if she was more aware. I’ve heard that her caregiver is planning to curbside vote for her in the primary. Is that OK, and if not, is there anything I should do about it?

That is not legal, and it should be reported.

If somebody is not of sound mind, that person should not have a ballot cast in his or her name.

Question 18: If I see something at the precinct that seems inappropriate to me, how can I report it?

Voters can report issues to the state Board of Elections using this incident report form. You can also reach out to media organizations, including Carolina Public Press.


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Jordan Wilkie

Jordan Wilkie is a Report for America corps member and is the lead contributing reporter covering election integrity, open government, and civil liberties for Carolina Public Press. Email jwilkie@carolinapublicpress.org to contact him.

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