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N.C. political science experts break down absentee ballots and the Election Integrity Act

Senate Bill 326, the Election Integrity Act, was filed on Thursday in an effort to move up the turn-in deadline for absentee ballots.
Published: Mar. 19, 2021 at 7:14 PM EDT
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GREENVILLE, N.C. (WITN) - An absentee ballot is what you’d get prior to Election Day if you can’t make it to the polls in-person, but due to the pandemic, there was an increase in the number of absentee voters last year in North Carolina.

Under North Carolina’s current law, absentee ballots can be collected three days after the election if they’re postmarked by Election Day. But last year, the N.C. Board of Elections extended that deadline to 12 days after the election due to the pandemic and concerns about delays in the mail.

There were 14,500 mail-in ballots that were received and counted after Election Day.

“State board of elections in a legal settlement decided to extend that process and what Republicans were upset about was that, from their perspective, that’s a decision that the state legislature should be making, not the state board of elections,” ECU’s Dr. Peter Francia said. “And so that’s … part of what’s going on.”

Governor Roy Cooper said on Friday during a visit to Vidant’s mass vaccination clinic in Greenville that North Carolina’s election was “run well this time.”

“We need to be making it easier for people to vote, and not harder, “Cooper said. “I think there’s general consensus that North Carolina’s election was run well this time, so I have deep concerns about making changes that would make it harder for people to vote.”

However, Republican Sens. Warren Daniel, Ralph Hise and Paul Newton filed Senate Bill 326, the Election Integrity Act, on Thursday that would move up the turn-in deadline for absentee ballots.

“You’ve got 14 days to request and it needs to be in by close of business on Election Day,” Sen. Paul Newton (R-Cabarrus, Union) said. “If it’s not, it won’t be counted.”

The bill also proposes banning third party donations to NCSBE and would fund $5 million to pay for a mobile I.D. unit to help voters in-person get a photo identification at the poll.

Newton said the purpose of the bill is to restore faith and confidence and trust in the electoral process in North Carolina.

“I think we got 14,500 ballots received and counted after election night,” Newton said. “That breeds suspicion in the mind of some North Carolinians. What could go wrong with 14,500 votes coming in after election night? So this bill will fix that.”

ECU political science professors explained why it was an issue with a look at both sides of the aisle.

“Most notable was the idea that a ballot could arrive after Election Day and still be counted,” Dr. Brad Lockerbie said. “Are we all participating in the same election? If I vote on Election Day, but you may have voted, a week or two beforehand with an absentee ballot, or technically speaking, if you, if we don’t have a postmark requirement. You could vote after the election as long as you got in there with the requisite time so you could vote, knowing what the vote was on election day, and that can change the dynamics on election considerably.”

The legislation would also move up the deadline to request an absentee ballot by one week.

Francia added what some Democratic lawmakers could think about the shorter timeframe.

“The Democratic perspective on this bill is that the further you move something away from Election Day, whether it’s a registration deadline, whether it’s the request for an absentee ballot, the more likely you are to lose some voters and the reason for that is straightforward,” Francia said. “Voters are more interested in the election, the closer we get to election day.”

Sen. Don Davis (D-Pitt) said he has some concerns about the bill but looks forward to hearing it in the Redistricting and Elections Committee.

“I believe that we should make it easier,” Davis said. “If that ballot is cast by Election Day, then that ballot should be counted. And essentially what we’re doing ... is we’re saying that the voter would have to take the steps to make sure that the ballot arrives by Election Day. I just believe we should take steps to make it easier. Open up the period for even longer duration of time.”

For some Republicans, the bill would give confidence to, and ensure North Carolinians that the process is fair and that everyone has equal footing.

“You know, the longer we’ll allow these ballots to come in, the more potential there is for mischief,” ECU’s Dr. Jody Baumgartner said. “On the other side of the coin, the confidence that people would have, the added confidence, that people might have in the process might be seen as … a net positive.”

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