Lanie Hamrick, left, and Destinee Terry, both students at Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College, check in to pick up their primary election ballots at the Old Fort Wesleyan Church polling place in McDowell County on March 3, 2020. Colby Rabon / Carolina Public Press
Lanie Hamrick, left, and Destinee Terry, both students at Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College, check in to pick up their primary election ballots at the Old Fort Wesleyan Church polling place in McDowell County on March 3, 2020. Colby Rabon / Carolina Public Press

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Absentee voting is North Carolina voters’ favorite way to cast a ballot. Casting a ballot before Election Day has been around for about 100 years, though it was originally a cumbersome process only done by mail. 

Now, voters can cast ballots by mail or in person before Election Day. Since 2008, more than half of voters have decided to cast ballots early, mostly using in-person absentee voting, than on Election Day. 

In-person absentee voting, also called one-stop voting, is now open in North Carolina. It will run until 3 p.m. Saturday, May 14. Hours and locations are found on the N.C. State Board of Elections website

Voting early can help voters avoid long lines, find a convenient time to cast a ballot or catch any potential issues, like forgetting to update their registration before an election. Here is a guide from Carolina Public Press that will help you find the resources you need to cast a ballot, understand the process and find more information if you need it. 

Important links to helpful sites

Voter guides can help you learn who is on the ballot and why that race is important.

Check out the nonpartisan NCSBE judicial voter guide, BallotReady, NC Voter and guides from your local news outlets. 

Find your local board of elections.

Vote absentee by mail

Vote early in person.

Check my North Carolina voter registration (and your friends’, too).

Basic questions to vote in a North Carolina primary election 

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, you don’t have to show a picture ID, with one very uncommon exception. Though voters passed a constitutional amendment requiring photo ID, state courts blocked the legislation putting the requirement in place because it may be discriminatory.

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 registrations. 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; those documents need to match the voter registration.

So, if someone asks to see your photo ID, make sure that person is an election official. If not, report the person to the election officials.

If the person is an election official, ask why you need to show a photo ID. If the official describes 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 anyone gives any other reason or says 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. State Board of Elections.

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

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

No, you don’t need to have your voter registration card with you to vote.

If I show up at the early voting site 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 register to vote during in-person early voting. Bring one of the forms of ID listed above. If election officials are unable to register you, you can still vote with a provisional ballot. There should be a Help Station at every voting site. The poll workers there will help you register or 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.

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 May 17 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.

Regardless of how you vote in the primary, in the November general election, you can vote for anyone on the ballot, including splitting your vote among people of different parties.

If I vote in the primary for a certain party, can I vote for a different party’s second primary election, should that happen?

No, if there is a second primary, you have to stick with the party ballot you requested until the primaries are over. Then, in the general election this fall, you can vote for whomever you want. 

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 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. Voter intimidation is not allowed, no matter where it happens. 

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

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

Voters can report issues to the N.C. State Board of Elections or your county board of elections. You can also reach out to media organizations, including Carolina Public Press.

How does voting early in person work?

Voting early in person helps keep elections running smoothly. It keeps lines short on Election Day, gives voters more scheduling flexibility and helps voters avoid having to cast a provisional ballot. 

During early in-person voting, a form of absentee voting, voters who recently moved or forgot to register before the deadline can register and vote at the same time, in the same place. To register, a voter will have to bring proof of residence, though not necessarily a photo ID.

Election officials will accept a “copy of a current utility bill, bank statement, government check, paycheck or other government document showing the voter’s name and address,” according to the N.C. State Board of Elections. 

To avoid waiting in line or creating lines for others, voters who have the flexibility should vote midday, after the morning rush and before the after-work crowd. Voting in the first week and on a weekday could also help avoid crowds, as early voting is busiest on weekends and in the final days before the election. 

How does voting by mail work?

If this is the option for you, don’t wait. Ballots that are received late will be rejected. Ballots that are received within three days of Election Day but don’t have a stamp from the post office indicating they received the ballot on Election Day will not be accepted. This means acting earlier is better for guaranteeing your votes are counted. 

You can request an absentee-by-mail ballot online at the State Board of Elections website. You can also submit a request by downloading the form or picking it up from your county board of elections office, then returning it to that same office by email, mail, fax or in person. Request forms are also available in Spanish. You can also have your county board of elections mail you a request. 

Because voting by mail can take a while, request a ballot as soon as you can. Try to give yourself two weeks for your county board of elections to process your request and mail you your ballot, and another week to mail the ballot back. If you plan to return your by-mail ballot in person to your county board of elections, you can request the ballot a bit later. 

Really, as soon as you are comfortable voting your ballot, vote and return your ballot. The earlier voters have their ballots back to their county boards of elections, the smoother the counting process will go. 

Worried about the ballot arriving on time?

You can track your by-mail ballot’s progress with BallotTrax.

If I request a by-mail ballot, can I vote in person? 

Yes. You can vote in person until your by-mail ballot is accepted by your county board of elections. If you request a by-mail ballot but go vote in person, tear up your by-mail ballot. If you bring it into the voting center, it triggers a number of procedures that may slow the voter check-in process. 

If you vote twice, or try to, it’s a crime. 

Editor’s note: This FAQ draws heavily from the N.C. State Board of Elections’ website and resources, which are linked extensively in this article. If you have questions after reading our FAQs, reach out to your county board of elections office, which is the best source of information for voting-related questions.

Jordan Wilkie

Jordan Wilkie is a former Report for America corps member and reporter at Carolina Public Press.

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