RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – A Republican-led Senate committee approved a bill Wednesday that would require mail-in ballots to arrive at local election offices by the day of an election in order to count.
If passed, it would change the current law which requires ballots to be postmarked by Election Day but allows up to three days for them to make it to the election office.
The bill allows for exceptions for military and overseas voters.
The issue drew a significant amount of attention during the 2020 election when record numbers of people decided to vote by mail amid the pandemic. A legal settlement entered into by the N.C. State Board of Elections extended the deadline even further, allowing postmarked ballots to continue to arrive for nine days after Election Day.
“Distrust and suspicion in the electoral process also undermines confidence and can be just as damaging. So, our goal with this legislation is to restore that trust,” said Sen. Warren Daniel (R-Burke). “It caused North Carolina’s call of the election to drag on needlessly for days even races that were not close, such as the presidential and U.S. Senate races.”
According to state election officials, during the nine days following the 2020 election, local elections offices received and counted 14,539 mail-in ballots. Of those, 870 were military and overseas ballots. More than 5.5 million ballots were cast in the election.
“It will result in many, many valid ballots from responsible voters who have a right to vote being thrown in the trash,” said Sen. Natasha Marcus (D-Mecklenburg).
In the 2020 election, Democrats utilized mail-in voting at a much greater rate than Republicans. But, Sen. Marcus said the bill would disenfranchise voters of both parties whose ballots may arrive late due to issues with mail service.
“We’re never going to know the winners in every race on Election Day, and to me that’s a red herring,” she said. “They’re only wondering about the security of the election because they are feeding the big lie. They’re buying into Trump’s argument that there’s some kind of fraud here.”
Since the 2020 election, Republican lawmakers in states across the country have sought to change election laws in response to some of the claims made by former President Donald Trump of widespread voter fraud and irregularities, though there has been no evidence produced to support those claims.
Gov. Roy Cooper (D) has raised concerns about bills that would impact voting rights and may curtail options people have to vote and have their ballots count.
Before his speech in North Carolina this weekend, Trump noted he won the state in 2020 and that it happened “without a fraudulent outcome.”
Still, legislative Republicans say the proposed change is needed to get election results faster.
“Leaving voters in the dark about the outcome harms the integrity of the process,” said Sen. Daniel. “Every day that passes after Election Day with uncertainty just causes distrust in the process.”
The advocacy group Democracy NC said the bill is unnecessary.
“The more options, the more accessibility we have is better for our democracy, better for our elections, not worse,” said Manny Diaz, regional managing organizer for the group’s southeast region.
The committee also approved two other bills Wednesday. One would prevent state and local election boards from accepting private donations to help with running elections with the goal of preventing the appearance of any improper influence.
Another would create an online option for people with visual impairments to request and cast absentee ballots.