How mail-in ballots and long lines impact minority voters

This year’s early voting data points to African American turnout that could rival records set when Barack Obama was on the ballot. But a scramble to fix absentee ballot errors and hours-long lines are raising questions about whether every vote will be counted. 

Inside the Guilford County elections building in Greensboro, North Carolina, early ballots are processed, sorted, and in some cases rejected if voters don’t fill them out properly. While the overall rejection total is relatively low, absentee ballots submitted by Latinos and African Americans in the state are three times more likely to be turned away than those from White voters. 

“African Americans have not been cultivated to use the absentee ballot, and as such it’s their first time doing it,” said Dr. T. Anthony Spearman, who sits on the county’s Board of Elections and serves as president of the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP. “With that naivete comes the opportunity for them to not get right what needs to be right.”

In Georgia, voting lines have stretched so long that it has taken some people 10 hours to vote and delays appear concentrated in the racially diverse Atlanta area. Nearly half of Georgia’s active voters live there, but according to one analysis, they’re served by only 38% of the state’s polling places.   

Back in North Carolina, Spearman and other activists are mobilizing people to early voting sites to make sure their votes count. 

“The motivation for voters to get out and vote this time around is higher — much higher than it was in 2016,” Spearman said.   

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