North Carolina sees surge in absentee ballot requests

CHARLOTTE — Election Day is right around the corner. In fewer than 40 days, mail ballots will start heading out to voters, which could be in record fashion this year.

"This is going to break all of the records for North Carolina voting methods," political expert Michael Bitzer said.

Data analyzed by Bitzer shows 103,396 people have requested mail ballots so far across the state, which is five times as many that were requested at the same time in 2016. That number is only going to climb, because voters can request a mail ballot until the week prior to Election Day.

[READ MORE: Cooper signs bill easing NC absentee ballot access during pandemic]

Of the people requesting absentee ballots this year, 52% are Democrats, 35% are unaffiliated and 13% are Republicans.

Mecklenburg County voters have requested the second most ballots by mail so far with 17,373. Wake County is leading the state in absentee by mail requests.

Voters must sure their ballot is postmarked by Election Day. The longer people procrastinate in returning their votes, the more it could delay results. That could have the potential to leave races on election night too close to call.

"If things are as close as what they are expecting them to be, it could be Wednesday into Thursday, maybe into Friday until we truly know how things settled down," Bitzer said. "But it is going to be a very closely watched election process."

Mecklenburg County Elections Director Michael Dickerson is imploring people to not hang on to their mail ballots until the last minute.

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"If we have a close race that is going to make a difference," he said.

He also wants people to know that they are going to do everything they can to keep people safe if they choose to vote in person.

"I want to make it a safe process for my voters and especially my poll workers," he said.

The Mecklenburg County Board of Elections approved more than 30 early voting sites, including the Bank of America Stadium and Spectrum Center. Dickerson said the benefit of sports arenas is the county will be able to put a lot of machines there and spread them apart by 6 feet.

Voters in Mecklenburg County use ballot-marking devices to cast ballots. Dickerson said the county is considering providing a pen with a stylus for each voter to use when they make their choices.

"Instead of getting a sticker this year, you might be getting a pen that says I voted," he said.

Anyone can vote by mail in North Carolina. For information on requesting an absentee ballot, click here.