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N.C. Republicans introduce bill to restrict mail-in voting return dates

A sign indicating where to submit ballots at First Baptist Church in Chapel Hill on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022.

Republicans in the North Carolina General Assembly filed Senate Bill 88 on Feb. 9, proposing amendments that would restrict deadlines for mail-in ballots.

Currently, all mail-in ballots may be received by the county board of elections no later than 5 p.m., three days after Election Day. The ballot must also be postmarked by Election Day. 

S.B. 88 would require that all mail-in ballots must be received by the board of elections no later than 7:30 p.m. on Election Day.

Over 1 million North Carolinians voted absentee through a mail-in ballot in the 2020 election. This included over 974,000 civilians, 11,000 service members and 16,000 overseas citizens. In 2022, just under 190,000 people voted by mail in the state, including about 4,500 in Orange County.

S.B. 88 is primarily sponsored by Sen. Ralph Hise (R-Alleghany, Ashe, Avery, Caldwell, Haywood, Madison, Mitchell, Watauga, Yancey), Sen. Paul Newton (R-Cabarrus) and Sen. Warren Daniel (R-Buncombe, Burke, McDowell).

Hise, Newton and Daniel did not respond to The Daily Tar Heel’s requests for comment before the time of publication.

Tyler Daye, the civic engagement manager at Common Cause North Carolina, said he thinks the bill is unnecessary.

“I would argue that this act does the opposite of what it's intended to do by making it, I would argue, more confusing for voters and restricting voter's access,” Daye said.

Sen. Natalie Murdock (D-Chatham, Durham), said North Carolina has worked to ensure multiple opportunities to vote in the past, especially for young professionals, students and military.

“I think that that's a phenomenal standard we've set here in North Carolina, and that we don't need legislation that is going to prevent having a lot of options to vote,” she said.

Christopher Clark, a UNC political science associate professor, said that while he believes voting groups will let voters know of these changes to ensure they are informed, he still sees it hurting the ability of voters to cast their ballots. 

“I still think overall it is going to be potentially repressive,” Clark said.

Sen. Lisa Grafstein (D-Wake) said that she worried about the stipulation for larger amounts of ballot data collection at the end of the amendment. She said she worries about the ability of the Board of Elections to produce the data, especially in the wake of budget cuts.

“I just want to make sure that we're not putting more requirements on boards to just churn out data in ways that are going to impair their ability to carry out the elections themselves,” Grafstein said.

The bill has already passed the Senate Rules committee and has been sent to the  Senate Redistricting and Elections committee for review.

Republicans hold a supermajority in the Senate, but not the state House. Murdock said she is confident House Democrats will stand against the bill.

“I'm confident that the Democrats will stand firm, particularly in the House, to not support any legislation that prevents us from having a lot of choices to vote in the Senate,” Murdock said. “Unfortunately, we are in a super minority. But I am hopeful or confident, rather, that Democrats in the Senate will say we do not want any additional restrictions and barriers that make it harder to vote.”

@DTHCityState |

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