Last week, North Carolina’s Republican legislative leaders requested the US supreme court stop a recent court decision that would extend the state’s deadline for mail-in ballots.
In the request for injunction, state senate leader Phil Berger and house speaker Tim Moore argued that the deadline extension amounts to a “usurpation of power” by the Board of Elections in the battleground state. Republicans in other states like Pennsylvania and Michigan have similarly sought to limit the time ballots can be returned and counted in recent weeks.
“The question now before the US supreme court is whether an unelected state panel should be able to change election laws after voting has already started,” Berger said in a release. The Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee have also filed a second, similar motion to the supreme court opposing the extension.
North Carolina law currently requires ballots be postmarked by election day and received no more than three days later. But newfound concerns over thousands of mail-in ballots being rejected for small voter errors across the state prompted the board – a bipartisan agency – to propose extending the deadline for receiving ballots to 12 November.
Earlier in the week, the fourth US circuit court of appeals ruled 12-3 in favor of the extended deadline, noting that ballots must still be postmarked on or before election day.
The court found that not only was the board of elections within its rights to extend the deadline, but also that an extension made sense given the extraordinary circumstances surrounding this year’s election, in which Covid-19 concerns and postal delays have threatened in-person voting and counting ballots.
“There is no irreparable harm from a ballot extension: again, everyone must submit their ballot by the same date.” Judge James Wynn wrote. “The extension merely allows more lawfully cast ballots to be counted, in the event there are any delays precipitated by an avalanche of mail-in ballots.”
A spokesman for the NCSBE wrote that the agency does not comment on pending litigation, but remains “focused on continuing to carry out a smooth and safe election”.
“We will also reiterate what we have said all along: we encourage voters to request and return their absentee ballots as quickly as possible,” the spokesman added. Nearly 3 million people have voted in North Carolina as of Saturday, according to a tally by the US Elections Project, with roughly a quarter of those votes coming through the mail.
In an emailed statement, the North Carolina attorney general, Josh Stein, a Democrat, wrote that the recent filings were an attempt by Republicans to “block eligible voters from having their votes counted”.
“If voters comply with the statute and mail in their ballots on or before election day, they should not be penalized by slow mail delivery in a pandemic,” Stein wrote. “The Republicans have lost this argument at every turn because they are trying to stop votes from being counted.”
However, two of the dissenting fourth circuit judges urged plaintiffs to take the case to the supreme court.
“Not tomorrow. Not the next day. Now,” they wrote.
“It takes no special genius to know what this insidious formula is producing,” Berger said. “Our country is now plagued by a proliferation of pre-election litigation that creates confusion and turmoil and that threatens to undermine public confidence in the federal courts, state agencies, and the elections themselves.”