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Fact Check: Do North Carolina voters have more time to cast their ballots?

A voting sign is seen outside a Charlotte precinct on Nov. 8, 2022.
Claire Donnelly
/
WFAE
A voting sign is seen outside a Charlotte precinct on Nov. 8, 2022.

It’s time now for a fact-check of North Carolina politics. With less than a week before North Carolina’s presidential primary, we’re looking at a recent claim about voting by Democratic District 2 Congresswoman Deborah Ross.

During a press conference last month, Ross said: “North Carolina has the longest voting period in the country … and we have the most ways of voting.”

For more on that claim, I’m joined now by Paul Specht of WRAL.

Marshall Terry: OK, Paul. Give us some context here. Why did Congresswoman Ross make this claim when she did?

Paul Specht: Well, it was at the end of a press conference where she was talking about a new bill filed by her and other Democrats that aims to bring more transparency to redistricting. For some more background, you know every state goes through its redistricting process every 10 years and so they draw new maps for Congress, new maps for legislative districts. North Carolina over the years has gotten in trouble with the courts. This most recent time that they redrew the congressional maps, they did most of that behind closed doors, and so Ross introduced this bill that would make it easier for voters or anyone to see who influenced the process.

Terry: So what are the voting rules in place in North Carolina, as far as the total voting period goes? And how does the state compare to others?

Specht: Right. So absentee voting usually starts before anything else. And so we looked at absentee ballots and we thought, OK, the best way to judge voting periods is by looking at when absentee ballots are initially mailed out by elections boards, and then the last day that they can be accepted. That varies by state. And what we found was that North Carolina has the longest voting period for general elections. By law, absentee ballots go out 60 days ahead of a November election — that's the longest in the country. There's another state — Delaware — that has a law allowing them to go out that far ahead. But an election spokeswoman told me that that's not really what happens in practice. They typically go out 30-45 days in advance. Another thing that sets North Carolina apart is it's a "no-excuse" state, meaning anyone can participate in the absentee voting method, whereas in Delaware that's not the case. So at least with general elections, we stand out.

Terry: OK. So what about the primary period, then?

Specht: Well, that's a different story. It turns out North Carolina and other states sometimes have different rules for primaries. The important takeaway is North Carolina normally sends its absentee ballots out 50 days in advance of a primary. And this year they had to change it to 45 days because that 50th day fell on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. That 45-day mark is not, this year, the longest in the country. There are other states like Alabama that send its absentee ballots out 55 days in advance. And then there are other states like Pennsylvania and Michigan, where election spokespeople told me [that] sometimes they go out up to 50 days in advance, but counties print their ballots at different times. So it really varies.

And then there are even states that are almost identical to North Carolina, like Virginia and Minnesota — they also send out their primary absentee ballots 45 days in advance, but they accept them a little bit longer. The polls are open longer in Minnesota than they are in North Carolina, so people have 30 minutes extra to get their ballots in in Minnesota. And then in Virginia, as long as they're postmarked by Election Day, they can still come in the mail up to three days after Election Day. So, there's a handful of states that have longer primary voting periods than North Carolina.

Terry: Now there’s that other part of her claim, as well. Ross said North Carolina has the most ways of voting. What are those ways, and how does that compare to other states?

Specht: Well, there's a number of them: there's absentee voting, there's provisional voting, there's early voting in person, there's voting on Election Day, there's voting by mail, there's same-day registration — where if you're not a registered voter, you can show up in the early voting process and register and vote on the same day.

But here's the thing: When I reached out to experts about this, yes, North Carolina appears to have just about every method that you can have and a handful of other states do, too, have very similar voting menus, if you will. But experts said it's sort of a misleading claim because it doesn't provide any insight into who has the easiest access to ballots — and that's really what's important when it comes to involving the most people in our democratic process.

They said a better thing to do is look at who makes it easiest to vote. And, all in all, it's just really hard to judge. They gave examples, you know, a state might have early voting, but if individual counties restrict early voting times or early voting sites, then that doesn't matter as much that they mandate early voting by law.

And then there are other states, they may have a lot of ways to vote, but they have really restrictive voter ID laws. So they said North Carolina deserves credit for offering all these different ways, but it doesn't really offer us any insight into who has the easiest ballot access.

Terry: So how did you rate this claim by Congresswoman Deborah Ross?

Specht: Well, she gets credit for North Carolina having the longest voting period for general elections, and that's when most people show up to vote. But this year, for the primaries, North Carolina doesn't stand out. And so, we consider this a half-truth on the whole.

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Marshall came to WFAE after graduating from Appalachian State University, where he worked at the campus radio station and earned a degree in communication. Outside of radio, he loves listening to music and going to see bands - preferably in small, dingy clubs.
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