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GOP voting changes become law as NC legislature overrides five vetoes

Peggy Defenderfer places a test ballot into a tabulator while completing logic and accuracy testing at the Wake County Board of Elections office in Raleigh Thursday afternoon September 15, 2022.
Jonathon Gruenke
As of Tuesday, North Carolina will no longer allow a three-day grace period for ballots postmarked by Election Day — they'd have to arrive at the county elections office by the time polls close.

Republican changes to how North Carolina's elections are run became law Tuesday afternoon. State legislators voted to override five of Gov. Roy Cooper's vetoes, setting what House Speaker Tim Moore says is a new record for the highest number of overrides in one session.

One of the bills would eliminate a three-day grace period for ballots postmarked by Election Day. They'd have to arrive at the county elections office by the time polls close.

Sen. Warren Daniel, R-Burke, said the rule is similar to dozens of other states.

"We must take common sense steps to ensure that our elections are fair and free from perceived bias," he said. "If you show up at the polls at 7:31 and want to cast your vote, you're not allowed to do so. We're changing the absentee ballot process slightly to conform with 30 other states who have the election day as the ballot deadline. This will be clearly communicated to everyone who receives an absentee ballot."

However, Sen. Kandie Smith, D-Pitt, said legitimate votes will get thrown out.

"This alteration would disenfranchise over 10,000 voters who may struggle to meet this new, shorter deadline," she said. "In a state where elections can be decided by a few hundred voters, this will matter. And while my colleagues are bending over backwards to shorten the amount of time that you can turn your mail-in ballot, they've actually extended the amount of time that they can challenge your mail-in ballot and potentially eliminate your vote."

Minutes after Tuesday's votes, opponents of the new lawsuit filed a lawsuit in federal court to block it from taking effect.

Another bill will overhaul the State Board of Elections, with an even split of Democrats and Republicans appointed by the legislature. The governor currently appoints the board with his party in the majority.

The governor would also lose appointments in another vetoed bill that was passed into law Tuesday. Those appointments include the Utilities Commission, Board of Transportation and Commission on Public Health.

Two other vetoed bills that lawmakers voted to override prompted environmental concerns from Cooper and Democrats. One would allow electric utilities to use more nuclear power to meet clean energy goals.

Sen. Paul Newton, R-Cabarrus, said the change "will help us reach our energy goals more cost effectively, and ensure North Carolinians can afford this basic human need of electricity."

Another bill finalized Tuesday includes a variety of "regulatory reform" measures, with Cooper objecting to what he called a "hodgepodge of bad provisions that will result in dirtier water, discriminatory permitting and threats to North Carolina's environment."

This week's session comes as Republicans are working on new redistricting maps behind closed doors. Moore and Senate leader Phil Berger say those maps could be released as soon as next week. Committee meetings are possible next week on the proposed districts, while floor votes expected the week of Oct. 23.

Colin Campbell covers politics for WUNC as the station's capitol bureau chief.
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