Mail-in voting from 2020 is still causing controversy

·7 min read

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“This is a fraud on the American public. This is an embarrassment to our country.” — Donald Trump, in a speech at 2:30 a.m. on election night, criticizing states that did not declare a winner before they finished counting the votes.

Republicans in North Carolina are hoping to stop counting mail-in ballots after election night in the future, and no longer allow a three-day grace period for the mail to get ballots delivered after the election.

First things first: This would only affect a small number of voters. But the bill still attracted plenty of attention and split sharply along partisan lines when it came up in the N.C. Senate Wednesday night.

For both sides, this is more about the philosophy behind the bill than the raw numbers. But let’s look at those numbers anyway, shall we?

In 2020, North Carolina smashed mail-in voting records. Even so, only around 14,000 mail-in ballots were delivered and counted after Election Day. That’s roughly 0.25% (1 in 400 for you non-math people) of the 5.5 million ballots cast last year.

Democrats and voting rights activists pointed out that all those thousands of ballots would have been thrown out last year, under this new plan. Yet at the same time, you’d certainly hope that if this change does become law (and that’s a big if, since Gov. Roy Cooper could veto it), many of those voters would adapt.

But would 100% of them? Probably not. And can you guarantee the USPS won’t have 2020-esque delays ever again? Of course not. So it’s likely that legitimate ballots would go uncounted.

When Democrats raise those concerns, though, Republicans respond that even under the current rules some ballots get mailed on time but delivered too late, so they aren’t counted. And that’s true. It’s also probably why a large majority of North Carolinians vote in person even when there’s a deadly global pandemic (including your humble newsletter writer).

Improving voter trust? While Democrats are concerned about any bill that would likely result in legitimate ballots being thrown in the trash, even if it would probably be a small number, Republicans say it’s a necessary change for “election integrity.”

They say the gap between election night and the results being announced was, in 2020, part of what contributed to distrust in Joe Biden’s win. Distrust is just as harmful to elections as actual fraud, Republican Sen. Warren Daniel said Wednesday night, and Senate leader Phil Berger’s office distributed a poll showing that 60% of GOP voters (and 20% of Democrats) don’t think the 2022 elections will be fair.

What GOP lawmakers don’t mention is that those polls come after Trump and allies spread conspiracy theories about elections being rigged, including at the NCGOP convention this month where state Republicans invited him to speak.

He once again repeated his false claims of being robbed in 2020, to loud cheers from elected officials and party activists. No one I spoke to there raised any concerns about the harm potentially being done to voter trust. But I did hear plenty of the opposite.

So when I wrote about the vote on this bill Wednesday, I called state politics guru Michael Bitzer to ask what he thought of the official logic behind the bill: That eliminating the wait time after the election will cut down on conspiracy theories and improve trust in both the process and the results.

“It could,” he told me. “But we are in such a deeply polarized environment that there will always be causes and concerns — unless your candidate wins. And then it seems like those concerns go away.”

BUDGET WATCH 2021

The long-awaited, might-actually-happen-this-time state budget is finally within sight and my colleague Dawn Vaughan has been all over it.

There were two big developments this week. One is that North Carolina collected $6.5 billion (with a B!) more in revenue than we expected. Gov. Roy Cooper said that means the state could pay for the tax cuts Republicans want while also paying for everything Cooper and fellow Democrats want, and have enough left over to put $1 billion into savings.

GOP leaders, though, weren’t exactly enthusiastic about that and suggested they should maybe just cut taxes even more.

”A huge surplus does not mean we’re spending too little,” Senate leader Phil Berger said. “It means we’re taxing too much.”

Their current tax-cut plan calls for dropping the corporate income tax from 2.5% to 0% and the individual rate from 5.25% to 4.99% while also raising the standard deduction.

However, later in the week there were signals of bipartisanship elsewhere in the budget.

Republicans wanting to expand Medicaid? To be clear, it’s not the full expansion Democrats want. But my colleague Lucille Sherman reported that Senate Republicans want to expand Medicaid specifically for new moms under a certain income level, to give them insurance for a full year after they give birth instead of the current 60 days.

When I spoke to Democratic Sen. Sydney Batch last month about problems in North Carolina’s foster system, she said this specific plan was the single biggest thing the state could do to keep kids out of the foster care system, or at least eventually help reunite families. She’s a family law attorney in Wake County and deals with issues like that frequently.

Imagine you have drug or mental-health problems, get pregnant and have your baby taken away from you. You’ll be ordered to go to counseling and show improvement to get custody of your child again. But how are you supposed to afford that expensive treatment, Batch said, if your health insurance gets cut off almost as soon as your baby is born?

WHAT WE’RE READING

The Historical Legacy of Juneteenth — an informative read from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, now that President Biden has signed a new law making Juneteenth a federal holiday.

Black Virginians Took Ralph Northam Back. Neither Has Forgotten — How did Virginia’s Democratic governor survive a blackface scandal, and what happened since then? Nuanced read on a touchy subject from the New York Times.

A new Civil War museum is opening in Fayetteville — In a city William Tecumseh Sherman’s troops largely burned to the ground in 1865, a brand new museum will focus on North Carolina history during the Civil War and Reconstruction, with backing from former Gov. Jim Hunt, the Fayetteville Observer reports.

MORE BIG STORIES FROM THE TEAM

In a rare Democrat-on-Democrat rebuke, longtime Raleigh Sen. Dan Blue is criticizing the Raleigh City Council for their 7-1 decision, made behind closed doors, to move this fall’s elections into 2022 — and potentially keep them in even-numbered years in the future, too. Anna Johnson has all the details on the tiff.

More reporting on secret political decisions that could affect your life! Republican lawmakers have been meeting for months with energy industry representatives to draft a bill intended to help the industry transition away from coal-fired power plants. It has everything from natural gas pipelines to renewable energy mandates. Lucille Sherman and Adam Wagner explain the recently unveiled bill, plus the backstory to it all.

Barely half of North Carolina adults are fully vaccinated, even despite having now had at least a few months to get it done. So politicians and public health experts are trying to get creative, like with Gov. Cooper’s cash giveaway plan we reported on last week. This week, new N&O politics intern Avi Bajpai reported on less glitzy efforts by volunteers going door-to-door in Southeast Raleigh, trying to combat misinformation and convince people to get vaccinated.

The fallout over the Nikole Hannah-Jones saga at UNC continues, both on campus and in Congress. Since the Pulitzer Prize winning journalist (and former N&O reporter) was denied tenure by the school’s board of trustees, many fellow professors have expressed dismay at what they see as political retribution for her highly public work on slavery and racism in America, which conservatives have strongly opposed. Kate Murphy reported that earlier this week 30 Black faculty and staff at UNC took a poll and found most of them were actively looking for other jobs. And in D.C., Brian Murphy reported that Sen. Thom Tillis co-sponsored a bill that would take federal funding away from any K-12 public school where teachers use material from Hannah-Jones’ most famous work, The 1619 Project.

Don’t forget: Listen and subscribe to our podcast wherever you usually like to listen. (Pandora, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, iHeartRadio, Amazon Music, Megaphone)

Thanks for reading. See you next week.

— Will Doran, state government reporter for The News & Observer. Email me at wdoran@newsobserver.com.

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