RALEIGH — A bill requiring North Carolina voters to turn in their absentee ballots no later than when polls close on Election Day is advancing in the state House.
A GOP-sponsored bill that passed 14-7 last week in the House Election Law Committee would remove the state’s three-day grace period after an election for an absentee by-mail ballot to arrive and set a 7:30 p.m. cutoff on Election Day for county boards to accept absentee ballots, regardless of postmark.
All absentee by-mail ballots would have to be submitted at a county board of elections office, whether by mail or in person, and could not be turned in at a one-stop early voting site. The measure would not apply to military or overseas absentee ballots. It must also pass the House Rules Committee before reaching the floor for a vote.
While Republican sponsors, like Rep. Ted Davis of New Hanover County, say the change is needed to restore trust in elections, critics say it would disenfranchise lawful voters of all parties and play into former President Donald Trump’s efforts to sow distrust in elections after he lost the last presidential race in 2020.
“The whole thing is to make the process more concise, more trustworthy, more transparent and more straightforward,” Davis said, adding that the bill aims to streamline the vote counting process so more races can be called on Election Day.
Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper successfully vetoed a similar proposal in 2021, saying the bill “virtually guarantees that some (votes) will go uncounted.” Republican seat gains in the midterms improved their chances this year of overriding a veto, but they will typically need at least one Democratic vote — or some absences from the chamber — to do so.
A 2009 bill, supported by GOP Senate leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore, created the existing three-day grace period for mail-in ballots that Republicans are now trying to eliminate.
Republicans at the committee meeting did not mention Trump nor his false claim that he was robbed of a 2020 win by widespread voter fraud. But Democrats tried to link the two, saying what is disguised as an election integrity measure reinforces a nationwide narrative promoted by the former president that mail-in ballots are less trustworthy.
Calling the bill “undemocratic,” Rep. Pricey Harrison, a Guilford County Democrat and former U.S. Postal Service employee, spoke of ballot delivery delays, particularly at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
She warned that the proposal could discard thousands of legitimate votes. The State Board of Elections received and counted more than 11,600 ballots in the three days after the last presidential election in 2020.
“We’re all going to be throwing away our constituents’ ballots by this if we pass this bill,” Harrison said. “I can’t really figure out the purpose of the bill beyond suppressing the vote.”
Rep. Jimmy Dixon, a Duplin County Republican, said it’s not fair to say such a high number of ballots might be discarded in future elections because the earlier deadline was not in place at that time.