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The articles from Inside Politics With Steve Harrison appear first in his weekly newsletter, which takes a deeper look at local politics, including the latest news on the Charlotte City Council, what's happening with Mecklenburg County's Board of Commissioners, the North Carolina General Assembly and much more.

Here's A Detailed Look At NC's 2020 Late-Arriving Mail Ballots. It May Not Be What You Think.

Chris Miller

In November’s election, North Carolina Democrats were more worried about the pandemic than Republicans.

Many stayed home and voted by absentee by-mail. Joe Biden won nearly 70% of the state’s mail ballots.

The Republicans filed a bill earlier this year called the “Election Integrity Act” – that's the GOP’s label – that would move up the deadline for absentee mail ballots, among other changes.

Under the current law, mail ballots can be counted if they arrive three days after Election Day, so long as they are postmarked by Election Day. The GOP bill would create a new deadline of 5 p.m. on Election Day.

But while Democrats dominated mail voting overall, it appears that the late-arriving mail ballots weren’t as lopsided in their favor.

Here are the numbers:

For the entire election, there were just over 1 million absentee mail ballots accepted, according to the N.C. State Board of Elections.

A little more than 1% – 11,635 — arrived between Nov. 4 and 6. Another 2,035 mail ballots were accepted from Nov. 7 to 12, after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a six-day extension for the November 2020 election only. All of those ballots were postmarked by Election Day, which was Nov. 3.

(Those totals are not perfect, however. Iredell County mistakenly labeled all of its 911 post-Election Day mail ballots into the Nov. 7-12 bucket. Most of those mail ballots arrived in the three days after the election, so the actual number of mail ballots received between Nov. 7-12 was closer to 1,300 than 2,000.)

So who cast those mail ballots?

Of the mail ballots that were accepted after Election Day, 3,819 came from registered Democrats and 3,759 came from registered Republicans. There were 5,929 mail ballots from unaffiliated voters.

Though there were slightly more Democratic ballots than GOP mail ballots, Republicans were overrepresented, based on their statewide registration.

About 36% of the state’s registered voters are Democrats and 30% are Republican.

In the pool of accepted post-Election Day mail ballots, 28% were from Democrats and 27.5% were from Republicans.

A breakdown of late-arriving mail ballots, by party.
A breakdown of late-arriving mail ballots, by party.

Black voters were under-represented in the pool of late-arriving mail ballots, at 13%. Black voters were just under 19% of all votes cast in the election.

In looking at those numbers, an earlier deadline wouldn’t appear to target Democrats, at least based on 2020 results.

But while both parties have had talks over a possible compromise, Democrats don’t appear interested in changing the deadline. After all, when the General Assembly moved the deadline to three days after Election Day 12 years ago, every Republican voted for it.

“We know we need to get partisanship out of elections administration and keep it out,” Democratic State Sen. Jay Chaudhuri of Wake County said. “That’s why any bipartisan bill must balance election integrity with voter access. Unfortunately, the Election Integrity Act in its current form would make our elections less accessible, more partisan, and no more secure.”

There are voting changes that Democrats want, such as making Election Day a state holiday or allowing for same-day registration on Election Day. It’s possible the GOP could try and bring Democrats on board by adding those provisions to the bill.

But those measures are tough to stomach for the Republicans, just as an earlier mail-ballot deadline is for Democrats.

That means Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper could face pressure to veto the bill.

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Steve Harrison is WFAE's politics and government reporter. Prior to joining WFAE, Steve worked at the Charlotte Observer, where he started on the business desk, then covered politics extensively as the Observer’s lead city government reporter. Steve also spent 10 years with the Miami Herald. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, the Sporting News and Sports Illustrated.