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NC Gov. Cooper vetoes bill moving up absentee ballot deadline

Chris Miller

North Carolina Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed on Thursday legislation that would bar officials from counting mail-in absentee ballots received after Election Day, even if their envelopes were postmarked on or before that date.

Cooper's veto was expected, given that Republicans pushed through the measure on party lines. Any GOP attempt to override his veto also is likely to fail given that Republicans majorities in both the House and Senate aren't veto-proof. Republicans haven't overturned any of Cooper's previous 12 vetoes this year.

Current law says envelopes postmarked by the day of the primary or general election can count if they are received within a three-day grace period. Republicans insist the bill would boost confidence in election outcomes by the public and help the media call results more quickly.

Legislative Democrats and their allies said the bill would suppress voting in a state where top-ballot races are closely divided, and comports with a narrative by the national Republican Party and former President Donald Trump of unfounded allegations of voter fraud last year.

“The legislature ironically named this bill ‘The Election Day Integrity Act’ when it actually does the opposite," Cooper said in his veto message. "Election integrity means counting every legal vote, but this bill virtually guarantees that some will go uncounted.”

Republicans shepherding the bill have not made fraud allegations a part of their arguments, but they have made references to the extended period of time in which some high-level races take to resolve.

They also remain unhappy about a legal settlement between the State Board of Elections and a union-affiliated group extending the grace period to nine days for the November 2020 election only to address postal delays and the pandemic, which made absentee ballots were extremely popular. They said it's the legislature's job to set rules to administer elections, not the courts.

The bill would have required ballots to be turned in to county election workers by 7:30 p.m. on the day of a general or primary election, whether through the mail or in person. The measure wouldn't have applied to military or overseas absentee ballots.

Democrats said the measure would have prevented people uncertain about their preferred candidate to wait until a campaign’s final days for fear their mail-in ballot wouldn't arrive in time. Repubilcans have pointed out that more than 30 statesalready don’t accept absentee ballots received after Election Day

“Election Day is the election deadline in plenty of Democrat-run states, yet Gov. Cooper and Democrats keep peddling this bizarre theory that the policy is an attempt at voter suppression,” Sen. Paul Newton, a Cabarrus County Republican and bill sponsor, said in a news release after the veto.

More than 11,600 ballots received during the first three days after Election Day last year were lawfully counted, according to the State Board of Elections. More than 5.5 million North Carolina voters cast ballots for the November 2020 election.

North Carolina officials already begin mailing 60 days before Election Day absentee ballots requested by registered voters. There are also 17 days of early in-person voting.

Another election-related measure sent this week to Cooper's desk and also likely to receive his veto stamp would bar election boards and officials in counties from accepting private money to run elections.

Millions of dollars were received from nonprofit entities to purchase pens and to provide bonuses to workers at early voting sites for the November 2020 elections. One grant distributor received large donations from Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of the company formerly known as Facebook, and his wife. Republican bill authors said outside donations to government agencies create the impression of undue influence in elections.

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