The North Carolina House Elections Committee passed a bill April 4 that would shore up election rules headed into the 2024 general election.
House Bill 304, Election Day Integrity Act, passed the committee 14 to 7 in a roll-call vote. The bill would revise the deadline for absentee ballots to be received by local boards of elections from three days after the election to the close of polls on Election Day itself.
This change would return N.C. law to where it stood in 2009 and match 32 other states with the same deadline of Election Day. An exception is made for military or overseas voters.
Bill sponsors say the measure is needed so voters know the results on election night, as opposed to the drawn-out process that emerged in 2020.
“The current system creates confusion for election boards about whether or not a mail ballot was legally submitted,” said Dr. Andy Jackson, director of the Civitas Center for Public Integrity at the John Locke Foundation. “It also confuses some voters, who believe everything will be OK as long as they mail their ballot by election day. There is no guarantee that a ballot mailed by election day will be counted. In the 2022 election, 1,202 mail ballots were not counted for being late despite the three-day grace period.”
An identical bill passed along party lines in 2021 and was vetoed by Gov. Roy Cooper, who argued in his veto message that the measure “virtually guarantees that some [votes] will go uncounted.” This session, Republicans have a veto-proof majority in the Senate and a working super majority in the House, making veto-override votes more achievable.
In the committee meeting on Tuesday, Democrats attempted to pass four amendments designed to either weaken or entirely gut the bill, each of which failed on a voice vote.
Rep. Allen Buansi, D-Orange, offered an amendment to shift the date the law would become effective to after the 2024 election on the basis that a delay would give voters “enough time to learn the new law so that they don’t lose their freedom to vote.”
Bill sponsor Rep. Ted Davis, R-New Hanover, countered that voters would be clearly educated on the new timeframe for getting in their absentee ballots.
“I believe the sooner we can get this done the better,” Davis said.
Rep. Joe John, D-Wake, offered an amendment to reinstate the three-day waiting period for absentee ballots, which would have cut out the main part of the bill. John claimed that in 2020, the provisions in the bill would have disenfranchised 3,819 Democratic voters, 3,759 Republican voters, and 5,929 unaffiliated voters.
“My primary concern with the elimination of the three-day grace period is that elimination has as its foundation an absolute confidence in the accuracy and reliability of the most inefficient, ineffective, and unreliable agency of the federal government — the U.S. Postal Service,” John said.
Rep. Harry Warren, R-Rowan, countered that voters would understand the changes and would get their ballots in earlier in future years.
Rep. Allison Dahle, D-Wake, offered an amendment to require ballot boxes to be at the county voting boards so that voters can drop off their absentee ballots, while Rep. Cynthia Ball, D-Wake, put forward an amendment to devote $2 million to educate voters on the change.
H.B. 304 now heads to the House Rules Committee.