They just can’t resist the urge to tinker.
Republican leaders in the N.C. Senate this week signaled that they will attempt to have the chamber act on a trio of bills changing the state’s election laws. One deals with voter ID, another with the funding of elections administration.
But it’s the third, and the proffered justification for it, that should get a considerable amount of scrutiny, along with a rejection from legislators or a veto by Gov. Roy Cooper.
It apparently — we say “apparently” because bill sponsors have yet to release the text they intend to introduce in committee — would eliminate an existing state law that says mail-in votes should be counted if they’ve been postmarked by election day and arrive at the county Board of Elections within three days of the election.
In practical terms, the three-day rule means if a mail-in vote reaches the board by 5 p.m. on the Friday of election week, it gets counted.
There’s nothing wrong with that, but Senate leaders now argue that it undermines voter confidence, and that the rule should be that only the ballots the board has in hand on election night should count.
“Every day that passes without a declared winner just breeds suspicions and conspiracy theories in people’s minds,” said Sen. Paul Newton, R-Cabarrus. “That’s not healthy. Requiring that at least all the votes are in on Election Day helps minimize the delay in declaring a winner and, for the most part, helps wrap up the process quickly.”
Where to start unpacking that?
How about with the fact that even under the Senate’s proposal, some ballots will still be trailing in days later?
Newton and his colleagues are leaving untouched another law that allows up to nine days of post-election-day grace for the arrival of ballots from active-duty military or civilian North Carolinians who happen to be overseas.
There’s a good reason for allowing those voters the additional time, namely that international mail doesn’t move all that quickly and the handling of it isn’t exactly under U.S. control.
But we think stay-at-home voters deserve the same consideration. They shouldn’t have to guesstimate how long it might take the U.S. Postal Service to deliver their ballot. The three-day rule already puts them in that position, unnecessarily so, and the Senate proposal would make things worse.
Newton’s point about “suspicions and conspiracy theories,” meanwhile, is just humbug.
The whole idea of “declaring a winner” on election night is a media creation, more specifically a television-news creation in the era when there were only three commercial broadcast networks and landslide outcomes in presidential elections were more the rule than the exception.
Elections have only ever been callable on election night when the result is somewhat lopsided.
Last fall, for example, we were fairly confident the election-night returns in the District 2 Vance County Commissioners race pointed toward the re-election of incumbent Archie Taylor. He had about a 500-vote margin on challenger Michael Fisher, and there weren’t 500 votes still up for grabs. By the time of the official canvass — which comes 10 days later — the county Board of Elections had received only 304 mail-in votes for that race, plus two provisional ballots.
Had Taylor’s election-night margin been in the dozens rather than the hundreds, there would’ve been a lot more suspense surrounding the outcome. We’ve seen a number of local elections in this part of the state come down to the canvass. And nobody’s ever said there’s anything wrong with that, because they know they can count on the local board not to monkey with the numbers.
Newton’s professed rationale for the bill asks people to believe otherwise, when the real problem comes from the occasional candidate who tries to pretend the only legitimate election is one they win.