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Absentee Ballot Turn-In Deadline Moved Up In NC Senate Bill

Chris Miller

RALEIGH — Absentee ballots in North Carolina would have to be received by county election officials by Election Day or the primary election date to be counted in legislation filed on Thursday by state Senate Republicans.

The measure, which also would move up the usual deadline to request a mail-in ballot, comes as GOP lawmakers remain upset about a legal settlement last fall that extended the time to receive mailed ballots nearly a week beyond what state law directs.

Current law says absentee ballots are counted by counties if they are received by hand by 5 p.m. on the day of the general or primary election — or if one is postmarked by that day and received no more than three days later. The proposal, filed by GOP Sens. Warren Daniel, Ralph Hise and Paul Newton, would place a hard 5 p.m. deadline on the day of the election or primary for receiving absentee ballots.

Last fall, the State Board of Elections had lengthened the collection period for mailed ballots from Nov. 6 to Nov. 12 due to the coronavirus pandemic, and also postal delays. The delay was part of a legal settlement with a union-affiliated group that had challenged what it saw as restrictive voting rules. Democrats held a majority of board seats.

Republican lawmakers challenged the settlement in court, saying the board usurped the legislators' authority to set election rules. A split U.S. Supreme Court ultimately refusedto disturb the board's deadline.

Newton, from Cabarrus County, has said he wanted election changes to make it more likely that the presidential outcome in North Carolina could be called on election night by major news outlets.

The measure also would move up the absentee ballot request deadline from seven days before the election date to 14. Exceptions to the deadline remain for registered voters who will be unable to vote in person due to sickness or disability.

The bill, which would need both House and Senate approval before heading to Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper's desk, also would spend $5 million for a program to identify people who need photo identification to vote in person and help them obtain one. A majority of voters approved adding a photo ID mandate to the state constitution in 2018. But that has not been carried out, as the amendment process and a measure implementing the requirement have been challenged in court.