Republican-led state legislatures across the country are waging an assault on voting rights following the 2020 election, and North Carolina is no exception.
One bill in particular would make worrisome changes to mail-in voting statewide. Senate Bill 326, which was approved by the N.C. Senate Wednesday, would require state elections officials to stop collecting mail-in ballots after Election Day, even if they are mailed on time.
It’s a significant departure from the current law, which allows any mail-in ballot that is received within three days of the election to be counted, as long as it’s postmarked on or before Election Day.
Any law that makes it harder to vote is not one we recommend, unless that law addresses a legitimate concern about fraud. This one doesn’t.
Republicans say this is a bill about “election integrity” and will mitigate public distrust in elections. But there’s no evidence to suggest that North Carolina’s election was fraudulent, and any distrust people might have has been prompted largely by Republican falsehoods about the election.
Republicans also say that other states require ballots to arrive by Election Day. That’s true — 29 other states do have an Election Day deadline. But at least some of those states also have more permissive election laws than North Carolina, and some are just different. (Oregon, for example, votes only by mail.) A better measure for any new voting law: Does it solve a problem, or does it create new ones for voters?
The increased unpredictability of the U.S. Postal Service has made the three-day grace period for mail-in ballots even more necessary. During the 2020 elections, North Carolina was one of the last states to finish counting votes due to a lawsuit settlement that temporarily let state officials count ballots that arrived up to nine days after Election Day due to worry over slow mail delivery.
In March, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a controversial Trump appointee, unveiled a 10-year reform plan that called for longer first-class mail delivery times and cuts to post office hours across the country. As The News & Observer previously reported, 2020 voting data shows that around 14,000 voters in North Carolina had their ballots counted after they were mailed on time but not delivered by the U.S. Postal Service until after Election Day. Is it fair to disenfranchise voters simply because the mail didn’t arrive on time?
It’s worth pointing out who will be affected by this change — and why. The three-day grace period was adopted unanimously in 2009, when more Republicans voted by mail than Democrats. In 2020, however, Democrats voting by mail outnumbered Republicans 435,245-201,475, with an additional 332,422 unaffiliated voters using that option. Why didn’t Republicans express objections to the three-day grace period until after the Democratic mail-in surge? The answer seems apparent.
SB 326 isn’t a bill about election integrity. It’s a bill about voter suppression. It’s about trying to stop people from voting, same as other voting measures Republicans have introduced in the past decade. That includes a voter law enacted in 2013 that was later struck down after a federal appeals court ruled it was designed to “target African-Americans with almost surgical precision.”
We agree that election integrity is at stake right now — not just in North Carolina, but across the country. But its biggest threat is not mail-in voting. Nor is it any of the other election fantasies that Republicans and former President Donald Trump have propagated since November. The most significant threat to free and fair elections are the barriers to voting that Republicans across the country have tried to put in place, before and since.
It’s time Republicans stopped trying to fix things that aren’t broken by alleging problems that don’t exist. They’re right — distrust in elections is dangerous. But they’re the ones fanning the flames.