Earlier state absentee vote receipt deadline goes to Cooper’s desk

Published 11:55 pm Thursday, November 18, 2021

By Gary D. Robertson

Associated Press

RALEIGH — North Carolina Republicans pushed a bill through the legislature on Thursday that would prohibit officials from counting mail-in absentee ballots received after Election Day. Gov. Roy Cooper is likely to veto the proposal, which fellow Democrats and allies say reinforces a nationwide narrative by the GOP based on unfounded allegations of widespread voter fraud.

Republicans contend the measure, along with an elections funding bill the House also approved along party lines, is designed to rebuild voter trust that has eroded in recent years.

Current law — in place for more than a decade — allows ballot envelopes postmarked by the day of the election to count if received within a three-day grace period. Republicans remain angry that a legal setlement extended the period to nine days during the November 2020 election because of postal delays and the pandemic.

Under the new measure,  which passed the Senate in June, ballots would have to be turned in to county election workers by 7:30 p.m. on the day of the general or primary election, whether through the mail or in person. Republicans say the wait for absentee ballots to trickle in delays results that the public wants. The measure doesn’t apply to military or overseas absentee ballots.

“Election Day is a date that voters know well. It’s a date that’s easy for voters to remember,” Rep. Grey Mills, an Iredell County Republican, said during House debate. Providing certainty to election outcomes sooner, Mills added, “will build voter confidence in our election process.”

About 30 states already don’t accept absentee ballots received after Election Day. But Democrats said the measure makes it almost impossible for those who are weighing their decisions in the final days of a campaign to be assured mailed ballots will count.

“Some folks may not make up their minds until Election Day,” said Rep. Kelly Alexander Jr., a Mecklenburg County Democrat, before the bill passed 62-48. “I urge you to seriously not tamper with something that’s not broken.”

More than 11,600 ballots received during the first three days after Election Day last year were lawfully counted, according to the State Board of Elections. More than 5.5 million North Carolina voters cast ballots for the 2020 election.