As the United States Postal Service faces questions on how it can handle an influx of voting by mail in the upcoming election, many voters are debating how to cast their ballots during the pandemic.
USPS recommends that absentee voters should be mailing their ballots a full week before the due date, or there are no guarantees it’ll arrive on time.
Elections officials want voters to know that voting absentee doesn't require you to mail in your ballot, though. Voters can drop their ballots off in person.
So here's what you need to know for absentee voting in the Carolinas:
Chapter one: North Carolina Absentee Voting
Who can vote absentee in North Carolina?
In North Carolina, any registered voter qualified to vote in an election can request a mail-in absentee ballot for the November 2020 election — no special reason is needed.
To request an absentee ballot in NC, the voter, the voter's near relative, legal guardian or any member of a multipartisan assistance team authorized to assist the voter, must fill out the NC absentee ballot request form.
On September 1, NCSBE debuted a new online portal where registered voters can request an absentee-by-mail ballot entirely online.
The North Carolina State Board of Elections defines a near relative as a spouse, sibling, parent, grandparent, child, grandchild, mother-in-law, father-in-law, daughter-in-law, son-in-law, stepparent or stepchild.
The statewide deadline for requesting an absentee ballot in North Carolina this year is Tuesday, October 27 at 5 p.m.
To vote using an absentee ballot, NCSBE said each voter will need one witness for the November 2020 election. In other elections, the presence of two witnesses or one Notary Public is usually required.
NCSBE said the purpose of the witness is to confirm the voter is voting the ballot, not to see what the voter has marked. The witness must be 18 or over. Other restrictions are in place for witnesses in NC, which can be found here.
How to return an absentee ballot in North Carolina
According to the NCSBE, each ballot in its return envelope must be returned to the county board of elections no later than 5 p.m. on Election Day in order to be counted, with one notable exception.
UPDATE: On October 20, a federal appeals court ruled that the State of North Carolina can count absentee ballots that are postmarked by Election Day for upwards of nine days after the election. This was an extension from the previous three-day deadline.
This accounts for some delays with USPS, which has been thrown into the spotlight recently.
Voters who want to track their absentee ballot can do so using an online service called BallotTrax.
But still, if North Carolina voters who requested absentee are not comfortable with taking the risk or can't vote in person on Election Day, they can deliver it in person. If delivering it in person, the voter or the voter's near relative can return it to the county board of elections. Likewise, the voter can deliver it in person to an early voting site during the early voting period.
Chapter two: South Carolina Absentee Voting
The deadline to register online to vote in South Carolina this year is Sunday, October 4. If registering by mail to vote, it must be postmarked by Monday, October 5. If registering in-person to vote in South Carolina, the deadline is Friday, October 2.
Who can vote absentee in South Carolina?
In previous years, voters in South Carolina would need to meet certain criteria to vote absentee in person or by mail. However, this year South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster has signed a bill that essentially lets anyone who wants to vote absentee in November's general election.
The Senate approved the special one-time update to the law during a special session on September 2. On September 15, the House voted during a special session to approve rule changes. Then, on September 16, McMaster signed the bill.
If eligible absentee voters wish to vote in person, they are asked to complete an application at their county voter registration office and cast their ballot. They have until 5 p.m. November 2 to do so, according to the South Carolina Election Commission.
As for SC absentee voters heading to the polls early, they must follow photo ID requirements by having one of the following photo identifications with them: an SC driver's license, SC Department of Motor Vehicles ID card, SC voter registration card with photo, federal military ID or US passport. Click here for a full breakdown of South Carolina county requirements.
When are the absentee deadlines in South Carolina?
SC absentee voters are asked to complete that process as soon as possible, but the official deadline to apply for an absentee-by-mail ballot is 5 p.m. on Saturday, October 24 — the ballot must be received by the voter registration office by that time.
If a voter is unable to go to the polls, an "Authorized Representative" acting on behalf of that voter may return the application by October 30.
To return the ballot, voters can mail it to their county voter registration office by 7 p.m. on November 3. If mailing it in, make sure to sign the voter's oath and have the signature witnessed by someone, no notary necessary.
Absentee voters can return the completed ballot in person in South Carolina to your local county voter registration office by 7 p.m. on November 3.
You can also visit your county elections office to obtain and vote absentee in-person.