RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – The deadline for mail-in ballots to arrive at election offices and still count would move up to Election Day under a bill the Republican-controlled North Carolina Senate will vote on this week.
Under current law, as long as a ballot is postmarked by Election Day, it will still count if it makes it to the county election office within three days.
Sen. Paul Newton (R-Cabarrus) advocated for moving up the deadline, pointing to the 2020 election when a court settlement extended the deadline to nine days after the election.
“When you take the three days and turn it into nine days, voter confidence is eroded,” he said Tuesday. “Every election has deadlines. And all we’re saying 18 months before the next election is the deadline is the most logical deadline in any election, which is Election Day.”
The bill includes an exception for military and overseas voters.
Democrats pushed back on the proposed change Tuesday, accusing Republicans of taking cues from former President Donald Trump who has made claims of widespread fraud in the last election but has not produced evidence to show that.
“We know this false narrative and distrust in the 2020 election comes from Donald Trump, who continues to traffic in such misinformation,” said Sen. Jay Chaudhuri (D-Wake).
The General Assembly first established the three-day grace period in 2009, when Democrats controlled the legislature. A bill that made a variety of other changes to absentee voting passed unanimously.
In even-year general elections from 2010-2016, more Republicans voted by mail than Democrats, according to data from the North Carolina State Board of Elections.
That changed in 2018.
Then, in the 2020 election amid the pandemic, Democrats utilized mail-in voting by margin of more than 2-1 over Republicans during an election that saw record turnout in North Carolina.
“So, now that lots of Democrats use mail-in ballots, they’re a problem? That’s not a good reason,” said Sen. Natasha Marcus (D-Mecklenburg).
Newton rejected the notion that this proposal to move up the deadline by three days has anything to do with the claims made by former President Trump or that the move is inherently partisan.
“It has nothing to do with President Trump, has nothing to do with national narratives. That bill has to do with what we observed in North Carolina,” said Newton. “It’s very surgical. It doesn’t disenfranchise anyone.”
During the 2020 election, the Board of Elections reported 13,669 mail-in votes came in after Election Day from voters who were not in the military or overseas and still counted.
“Throwing away those valid ballots is the opposite of election integrity. It is bipartisan disenfranchisement, and it’s wrong,” said Marcus. “They may not know the new rule. The mail might be slow, as we saw in the 2020 election, or voters may want to wait until Election Day to decide who to vote for.”
Newton argued that with advance notice, voters would know the deadline has changed and adjust accordingly.
“All, if not most of them, would have come in earlier if everyone had known your vote needs to be in on Election Day,” he said. “It’s a pretty illogical argument.”
Republicans pointed out a majority of states have set Election Day as the deadline for mail-in ballots.
The Senate also will vote on two other election-related bills.
One of them would bar state and local election boards from accepting private donations.
Another would establish an online portal to help people who are visually impaired to vote absentee and would establish a mobile unit to help people get photo identification to vote.
The state’s voter ID law has been on hold amid lawsuits over its implementation.