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Hundreds of primary ballots that would have counted in previous elections were disregarded in March primary

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Hundreds of primary ballots that would have counted in previous elections were disregarded in March primary

Apr 02, 2024 | 3:00 pm ET
By Lynn Bonner
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Hundreds of primary ballots that would have counted in previous elections were disregarded in March primary
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Without the three-day grace period, ballots arriving after election day are no longer counted in North Carolina. (Photo: Getty Images)

About 775 mail-in absentee ballots arrived at local board of elections offices in the three days after March 5 primary.

Under a law that had been in place for more than a decade, most of those ballots would have been counted. Under a new law enacted last year by the legislature’s Republican supermajority, none of them were.  

Citing the hundreds of trashed March primary ballots, Common Cause North Carolina called for the restoration of the grace period that permitted ballots postmarked by election day to be counted if they arrive at local boards of election within three days after an election. 

The legislature established the three-day grace period in 2009 with unanimous, bipartisan support. 

Republican views on voting have undergone a significant shift since then. Republican legislators repealed the grace period last year over Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto.

“The three-day grace period was a commonsense safeguard for North Carolina voters and was passed with unanimous, bipartisan support in 2009,” Bob Phillips, Common Cause North Carolina executive director, said in a news release. “The legislature’s decision last year to suddenly dismantle that safeguard hurts voters who rely on voting by mail to access the ballot box.”

Far fewer ballots were received in the three days after the primary this year than were received during the grace period after the 2020 primary. 

For that primary, 4,675 civilian absentee ballots were received by county boards of elections from March 4-6, 2020, and 3,949 ballots were accepted, according to the state Board of Elections. 

Board of Elections staff launched a voter education campaign this year to remind voters that the new deadline for mail-in ballots was 7:30 pm the day of the primary. 

The 2020 and 2024 numbers defy direct comparison because voter turnout was higher in the 2020 primary and the looming COVID-19 pandemic sparked increased interest in absentee voting, said Bryan Warner, Common Cause NC spokesman. 

Phillips said in an interview that he was at an Iredell County board meeting where members were told about a voter who requested an absentee ballot on Feb. 2. The ballot, with a Feb. 22 postmark, arrived at the elections office one day after the primary, too late to be counted. 

“This is a blatant example of what happens,” Phillips said. And it also highlights the question Republican legislators were not able to answer during debates last year: “How early do you have to mail in an absentee ballot?”

There was no good reason for repealing the grace period, Phillips said. “It accomplishes nothing but disenfranchise good North Carolina voters who do everything right.”

Voters are also adjusting to the relatively new voter ID law. 

For the primary, 1,185 voters cast provisional ballots for photo ID reasons, the equivalent of about 6.6 ballots for every 10,000 cast, according to the Board of Elections. 

People without ID either cast provisional ballots and fill out exception forms explaining why they don’t have an acceptable ID, or cast provisional ballots with the understanding that they will return to their local elections office and show an ID so their votes can be counted. 

Of the 1,185,  697, or 59%, were counted; 

  • 557 filled out exception forms 
  • 140 who did not fill out an exception form later presented ID at their Board of Elections. 

One percent, or 11 ballots, were partially counted. Ballots are partially counted when people vote at the wrong precinct. Sometimes those voters’ ballots include races that are outside their election districts. If they vote in those races, those votes don’t count.

Forty percent, or 477 provisional ballots, were not counted, most often because voters did not return to county elections offices to show an ID.