RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Election Day will become the deadline for mail-in ballots under a wide-ranging elections bill the General Assembly passed Wednesday night.
The bill eliminates the three-day grace period for mail-in ballots, establishes rights of election observers at polling sites and bans private money to fund elections, among a variety of other provisions.
“Folks have plenty of notice and should have knowledge that if they’re going to vote absentee, they need to make sure that they get their ballots in so that they will be received by the board of elections on time,” said Senate leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham).
Republicans have attempted to eliminate the grace period since the 2020 election when former President Donald Trump sowed doubt about the legitimacy of mail-in ballots as an unprecedented number of people sought to use that voting method amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
That year, state election officials settled a lawsuit brought by a Democratic attorney that extended the grace period to nine days. Republican legislators were angered that they were not involved in the settlement.
While Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper has vetoed previous efforts to eliminate the grace period, Republicans once again have a supermajority capable of overriding him.
House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) said Election Day is “when folks are supposed to vote. Why are we counting ballots after that date?”
Moore and Berger both voted in favor of a bill in 2009 that passed on a bipartisan basis and established the grace period.
“There’s more paranoia, I don’t know what the word is, more concern with elections, with ballots, with voting,” said Moore.
Bob Phillips, executive director of Common Cause North Carolina, said the move was unnecessary and urged Gov. Cooper to veto the bill.
“What I would say is, how is there more paranoia when the voters are voting in North Carolina in record numbers?” asked Phillips. “There’s been no systemic, widespread fraud when the state and county boards of elections have done their audits.”
Federal law establishes a grace period for military and overseas voters, who will be unaffected by the North Carolina bill.
In 2020, data from the NC State Board of Elections shows that 13,669 mail-in votes from civilians came in during the nine-day grace period allowed that year. Of those, 11,635 came in the first three days.
“They should not be disenfranchised because perhaps the postal service was late,” said Phillips.
Republicans point out 30 other states set Election Day as the deadline for mail-in ballots. Additionally, they say voters will adjust their behavior in order to meet the new deadline.
The bill also established a 10-county pilot program to conduct verification of signatures on absentee ballots.
An analysis by non-partisan staff at the legislature found the cost to implement the various provisions of the bill is about $6 million. It’s unclear if Republicans have included that funding in the budget. They are continuing to negotiate various aspects of the budget and are not expected to vote on it until mid-September at the earliest.
Republicans are still discussing a separate piece of legislation that would make state and local election boards evenly split between Democrats and Republicans. It’s unclear when there could be action on that issue.