NC postal ballot bill solves a problem that does not exist
Republican-led state legislatures across the country are leading an attack on voting rights after the 2020 election, and North Carolina is no exception.
One bill in particular would make worrying changes to postal voting statewide. Senate Bill 326, what was approved by the NC Senate On Wednesday, state election officials are expected to stop collecting mail-in ballots after polling day, even if they are mailed on time.
This is a significant departure from current law, which allows any mail-in ballot received within three days of the election to be counted, provided it is postmarked on polling day or before.
Any law that makes it more difficult to vote is not a law we recommend, unless the law addresses a legitimate concern about fraud. This one does not.
Republicans say this is a “electoral integrity” bill and will reduce public distrust of the election. But there is no evidence to suggest that the North Carolina election was fraudulent, and any mistrust people might have had was driven in large part by Republican lies about the election.
Republicans also say other states require ballots to arrive before election day. That is true – 29 other states have election day deadlines. But at least some of those states also have more permissive election laws than North Carolina, and some are just different. (Oregon, for example, only votes by mail.) Better metric for any new electoral law: does it solve a problem or create new ones for voters?
The increased unpredictability of the US Postal Service has made the three-day grace period for postal ballots even more necessary. In the 2020 election, North Carolina was one of the last states to complete the counting of the votes due to a court ruling that temporarily allowed state officials to count ballots that arrived until nine days after polling day due to slow mail delivery.
In March, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a controversial Trump appointment, unveiled a Ten-year reform plan this required longer first-class mail delivery times and reductions in post office hours across the country. As The News & Observer previously reported, voting data for 2020 shows that approximately 14,000 voters in North Carolina had their ballots counted after being sent on time but not delivered by US Postal Service until after polling day. Is it fair to deny voters the right to vote just because the mail did not arrive on time?
It’s worth highlighting who will be affected by this change – and why. The three-day grace period was passed unanimously in 2009, when more Republicans voted by mail than Democrats. In 2020, however, Democrats voting by mail outnumber Republicans 435,245 to 201,475, with an additional 332,422 unaffiliated voters using this option. Why didn’t Republicans voice objections to the three-day grace period until after the wave of Democratic mail? The answer seems obvious.
SB 326 is not an electoral integrity bill. It is a voter suppression bill. It’s about trying to keep people from voting, like other voting measures Republicans have introduced over the past decade. This includes an electoral law enacted in 2013 who was later hit after a federal appeals court ruled that it was designed to “target African Americans with almost surgical precision.”
We agree that the integrity of the elections is at stake right now – not just in North Carolina, but across the country. But its biggest threat isn’t postal voting. It’s also not one of the other electoral fantasies Republicans and former President Donald Trump have been propagating since November. The biggest threat to a free and fair election is the voting barriers Republicans across the country have tried to put in place, before and since.
It’s time for Republicans to stop trying to fix things that aren’t broken by alleging problems that aren’t there. They are right, distrust of elections is dangerous. But they are the ones who fan the flames.
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The Charlotte Observer and Raleigh News & Observer Editorial Boards combined in 2019 to provide our readers with more comprehensive and diverse opinion-oriented content on North Carolina. The Editorial Board operates independently of the Charlotte and Raleigh newsrooms and does not influence the work of the reporting and editorial teams. The combined board of directors is chaired by NC Opinion editor-in-chief Peter St. Onge, who is joined in Raleigh by award-winning News & Observer writer Ned Barnett and in Charlotte by Pulitzer-winning cartoonist Kevin Siers. Board members also include Robyn Tomlin, President and Editor-in-Chief of News & Observer, Sherry Chisenhall, President and Editor-in-Chief of Observers, and Barry Saunders, longtime News & Observer columnist. For any questions about the board or our editorials, email [email protected]