NC Republican bill would change deadline for mail-in ballots, opponents say it will silence voters

Capitol Report

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – The deadline for mail-in ballots to arrive at county election offices would move up to Election Day under a series of bills Republicans advanced Wednesday.

The move, Republicans said, stems from what happened during the 2020 election when Attorney General Josh Stein (D) and the North Carolina State Board of Elections settled a lawsuit that extended the mail-in ballot deadline.

As long as those ballots were postmarked by Election Day, they would still count as long as they made it to election officials within nine days.

“Everybody knows when Election Day is,” said Sen. Warren Daniel (R-Burke). “Every day that passes after that creates the possibility of distrust in the process.”

The bill allows for exceptions for military and overseas voters.

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.

“This bill is part of a national strategy to silence voters, particularly black voters who turned out in record numbers in 2020,” said Caroline Fry, interim advocacy director at Democracy NC. “We are paying attention. And, we will not stand by and let our voting laws be changed for partisan gain. North Carolinians deserve better.”

Republicans are advancing other election-related bills as well that would: improve access for people with visual impairments, prohibit election officials from accepting private donations to conduct elections or hire poll workers, require all voting equipment and software be manufactured in the United States starting in 2023 and remove people from the voting rolls who are dismissed from jury service who say they aren’t citizens.

Gov. Roy Cooper (D) vetoed a similar bill two years ago saying it could lead to legitimate voters being incorrectly removed from voting rolls and that the information would be public record and could lead to harassment.

The bills moved forward in the House Rules Committee Wednesday just as the state budget was also advancing, which includes a provision that would block Atty. Gen. Stein from settling cases where the General Assembly leaders have intervened and requiring approval from the Speaker of the House and Senate President pro Tempore.

“Unfortunately, the legislature included an unconstitutional provision that really tramples on separation of powers,” Stein said of that provision.

When Gov. Cooper said he would sign the budget into law, he said he also believes that provision and some others in the budget are unconstitutional and could be challenged in court.

“Especially in light of the events that happened, we believe illegally, extending the election deadline of the 2020 election, we want to make it clear that Election Day is the deadline in North Carolina,” said Sen. Daniel.

Democrats opposed the various election law changes during a House Rules Committee meeting Wednesday, with Rep. Billy Richardson (D-Cumberland) calling them divisive.

“We’re so divided in this country right now. Doing this series of bills is not going to help,” said Richardson. “We have got to come together, and this is not the way to do it. I hope we don’t pass this.”

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