Last week, the Supreme Court of the United States upheld a rule change in North Carolina that enables mail-in ballots to be counted as long as they arrive before Nov. 12 and were sent by Election Day. Many of North Carolina's races are too close to call at the moment, so these late-arriving ballots could decide who wins. By extending this deadline, the Board of Elections has reaffirmed that mail-in ballots count every bit as much as in-person votes, as they should.
Most voters have likely already cast their ballots, as we recently hit 95% of 2016’s total turnout in early votes. However, seeing as North Carolina was one of the closest states in 2016, it’s completely possible that our races for governor, senator or president could come down to very few votes.
Over the summer, the U.S. Postal Service began experiencing noticeable delays in mail delivery. As reported by The New York Times, starting between May and June of this year, the proportion of first-class mail arriving at least a day late began to increase. In the past week, it has surpassed 50%.
The U.S. Postal Service aims to deliver this mail within two days, meaning, in general, it has been arriving in three, but the extra day can have significant consequences regarding whether or not a mail-in ballot is counted, since states have a wide range of deadlines. North Carolina’s deadline used to be three days after the election until the State Board of Elections settled a lawsuit and extended it. The new date all but guarantees that every mail ballot cast by Election Day is counted.
Shockingly, yet unsurprisingly, Republicans in the General Assembly took issue with this decision, with state Senate leader Phil Berger saying “unelected bureaucrats” were overruling the will of the people by making the changes. This accusation is, for one, misleading, since the settlement also involved the (elected) Attorney General Josh Stein and a state judge, who are also elected officials in our state.
Berger further said the ruling would undermine voters’ faith in the election process, which is an absurd argument on a number of levels. For one, it’s hard to see how anyone can view counting a legally cast ballot as undermining an election. If a voter submits their ballot by Election Day, and it ends up uncounted because the postal service failed in its role, in no way can that be the voter’s fault. Ideally, everyone would cast their ballot a week ahead of the election, but as with any deadline, procrastination is a natural human tendency, and there’s no reason why procrastinators should be punished here.
For a second matter, Berger himself only holds his position as majority leader due to undemocratic, partisan gerrymandering, which meant that, in 2018, Republicans won 51.2% of the seats while winning only 76.9% of the vote, versus the Democrats’ 50%. Claiming that he speaks for North Carolina when the opposing party won an outright majority of votes is laughable.
That said, Berger’s reaction makes it abundantly clear why he and others in the legislature felt the need to reject as many ballots as they could; this election could see him lose his grip on the state Senate. Let’s hope that after the ballots are all counted, his fears are proven exactly right.