GREENSBORO, N.C. (WGHP) – When North Carolina Sen. Warren Daniel (R-Buncombe) told a House committee on Tuesday that “a lot of our members would have liked” to see the number of days for early in-person voting be reduced, you might have wondered who he was hearing this from and why lawmakers would want to close a window that voters use and like so much.
After all, early voting is increasingly popular, with clear, nonpartisan support, and elections officials aren’t broadly requesting a change from the 17 days county committees can schedule based on state law.
“It’s hard to find an elections policy that’s more popular than in-person early voting,” Chris Cooper, a government professor, elections expert and blogger from Western Carolina University, told WGHP. “Starting in 2016, in-person early voting became the most frequently used method to vote in North Carolina.
“In 2022, over half of North Carolina voters cast their vote in person before election day. While not the first in the country, North Carolina was a leader in the movement to embrace early in-person early voting. Public opinion polls clearly show support for in-person early voting.”
The House Elections Law & Campaign Finance Committee on Tuesday passed along a lengthy committee substitute to Senate Bill 747, which makes many changes to election law but does not alter the window for early voting. That bill could be voted on the House floor later today or this week.
State Rep. Jon Hardister (R-Guilford), the House majority whip and a lame duck because next year he is running for Labor commissioner, has been pushing for a reduction in the days. He even filed HB 123 earlier this year to create a constitutional amendment to reduce the number of days.
“I support early voting, but the current number of days is excessive,” Hardister told WGHP. “There is a lot that can change over the last few weeks of an election, and as such, it makes sense to start voting later so people have more time to absorb candidate-related information that becomes available.
“It also costs money to operate early voting, increased the demand on tax dollars, in addition to straining resources of candidates and their volunteers.
“Limiting early voting to a 10-day time frame will save taxpayer dollars, reduce strain on candidates and their volunteers, and create a more reasonable time frame for voting to begin. Voting should be more of an event and less of a saga that lasts for nearly a month.”
Who is asking for a change?
Patrick Gannon, a spokesperson for the NC Board of Elections, told WGHP that as far as staff knows, a reduction of the days allowed for early voting had not been discussed by the full board and is not aware of any legislation that might address that.
“We are monitoring all pending legislation that pertains to elections and providing information when requested by legislators or legislative staff, as we do routinely during legislative sessions,” Gannon said.
Asked if the NCSBE officials had heard requests from county election directors about a need to reduce the days and the expense of early voting, Gannon responded, “No.”
Charlie Collicutt, the respected and longtime head of elections in Guilford County, the largest voting district in the Piedmont Triad, said he wasn’t “sure about any concerns” with early voting.
“I wouldn’t doubt that one could make the argument that for some small elections, a 17-day window is too much,” he said, noting that some primaries and municipal elections often have many fewer active races than even-numbered years.
“I have not been a part of any request, and I haven’t heard about anything either. I’m sure it can be an expense issue. In small municipal elections, primaries, and runoffs, I’m sure the cost per voter is very high compared with larger elections. It’s not too much of an issue for Guilford.”
Who is voting early?
Cooper said that “rumors that the General Assembly might reduce the number of days are likely to be met with some opposition from the public, depending on the details. While more Democrats use in-person early voting than Republicans, that gap is shrinking over time.”
He noted that in 2022, 38% of early voters were Democrats, compared to 32% who were Republicans. “That means that this is not a sure-fire policy to shore up either party’s support, but likely one that will be met with some resistance from across the aisle,” he said.
Data through June compiled by the National Conference of State Legislatures show that all states and U.S. properties except for Mississippi and Alabama allow for some form of early voting.
The voting starts on an average of about 21.5 days before Election Day, with variances based on which year and how the calendar falls. Surrounding North Carolina, West Virginia opens early voting 13 days before Election Day, and South Carolina does at two weeks. Tennessee is at 20, Georgia at about 28, and Virginia’s voting starts 45 days early.
“People can’t necessarily get to the polls on Election Day. … I think we’ve got to make sure we are protecting early voting in every capacity and actually expanding voting rather than making it harder for people to do that,” NC Democratic Chair Anderson Clayton said earlier this year.
‘This is not one of them’
Cooper says it does cost a considerable amount of money to staff early voting days, a limit on the number of days may not save much of it.
“Those voters are likely to shift to other days, or vote in person, meaning that more staffing might be necessary on the already existing days,” he said.
“There are issues around election administration where the Republican supermajority has the majority of North Carolinians behind them (voter ID, for example), reducing the days of early voting is not one of them.”
Perhaps that was why Daniel provided the answer that he did to a question from Rep. Ted Davis (R-New Hanover) during the House hearing: “A lot of our members would have liked to have seen a reduction. But bill sponsors on both sides – in the Senate and the House – felt this was not something we wanted to include at this time.”
Said Rep. Grey Mills (R-Iredell) during the Rules Committee’s approval of the bill on Wednesday, discussing the language change about early voting in HB 747: “Our most popular method of voting is one-stop. Nearly 60 to 65% of the cast ballots were through the one-stop process. We made it more like election day … the same proven methods and safeguards.”