A poll worker in Nash County scans 2020 primary election voters’ paperwork before giving them ballots at the Braswell Memorial Library polling place in Rocky Mount on March 3. Calvin Adkins / Carolina Public Press

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Voting by mail just got an upgrade in North Carolina.

Now, voters can track their by-mail ballots step by step, from when their county board of elections sends their ballot to when it is returned and accepted. 

On Friday, the N.C. Board of Elections launched BallotTrax, an online tool created by Colorado software company i3logix that tracks by-mail ballots like packages.

Before, voters could only check to see whether their ballot was accepted or rejected on the voter search webpage. There used to be more data available there, but since the election fraud in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District in 2018, information on voter requests for absentee by-mail ballots is no longer available. 

With the new BallotTrax tool, voters can sign up for individual notifications about the status of their ballot by email, text or call. 

This tool could also be useful for election watchers. 

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“BallotTrax does have a dashboard that allows you to see how many ballots are in the system,” Pat Gannon, the public information officer for the state Elections Board, told Carolina Public Press. 

If there are any political contests in North Carolina that are close enough on election night for outstanding by-mail ballots to make a difference, the state (and therefore the public) will have access to data on how many ballots are in the mail and on their way back to counties. 

Without this tool, it is possible to know how many by-mail ballots had been requested and not yet returned, but it would be impossible to know how many were en route. 

This is also an important tool because it could in theory help county boards of elections make decisions on whether to accept some by-mail absentee ballots. 

All absentee-by-mail ballots need to be delivered to county boards of election by 5 p.m. Nov. 6. All by-mail ballots received by counties after 5 p.m. on Election Day need to have a postmark showing it was mailed before the deadline. 

Sometimes, county boards of elections receive ballots before the Nov. 6 deadline, but the ballot either does not have a postmark or the postmark is illegible. This usually means that the ballot cannot be accepted.

Though it is new territory, county boards of election could potentially opt to review the BallotTrax data in these instances to see whether the post office received the ballot before 5 p.m. on Election Day and use that data as a justification to accept the ballot. This, however, would be a new and legally untested approach. 

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Voters are encouraged to mail their ballots back by Oct. 25 to make sure they have plenty of time to arrive before the deadline. Voters can also drop their by-mail ballots off at their county board of elections during open hours before 5 p.m. on Election Day or to one of their county’s early voting sites from Oct. 15-31. 

BallotTrax also follows when a county receives an absentee by-mail ballot and when that ballot is accepted or rejected. That data could also be useful to election watchers to know how quickly counties are processing returned ballots. 

Voters with questions about voting by mail can read CPP’s FAQ to make sure they have all the information they need to have their vote count.

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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