WASHINGTON, D.C. – Attorney General Karl A. Racine announced today he is leading a group of 15 state Attorneys General in defending North Carolina’s deadline extension for receiving and counting mail-in ballots that were properly cast on or before Election Day. In a friend-of-the-court brief filed in Wise v. Circosta and Moore v. Circosta in the U.S. Supreme Court, the multistate coalition argues that state election officials should be allowed to administer the upcoming election in ways that protect voter safety and voter participation considering the COVID-19 pandemic and uncertainties with the United States Postal Service (USPS). The brief argues that extending the date by which a mail-in ballot must be received to count is a reasonable measure several states have taken to allow voters to cast their ballot by mail while also accounting for USPS’s recent delays. The District of Columbia has been active in protecting voting access nationwide, having recently led multistate coalitions in Alabama, Florida, Minnesota, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and two Texas cases.
“The North Carolina Board of Elections’ extension for receiving absentee ballots should be respected to help ensure those votes are counted,” said AG Racine. “State Attorneys General will continue fighting for the right of every American to safely and confidently cast their ballot this election.”
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, states across the country have modified their election procedures to protect both voter participation and the health of voters and election workers. Extending receipt deadlines for mail-in ballots that are properly cast on or before Election Day (November 3, 2020), is a practical and important option adopted by many states, especially given recent crises engulfing the USPS. Several states and the District recently sued to stop USPS cuts that threatened mail service in advance of Election Day, and the trial court in that case issued a preliminary injunction preventing the operational changes that would undermine mail delivery. Despite this win, USPS has indicated that it faces challenges around timely delivery of election mail, which makes extending receipt deadlines for mail-in ballots an important accommodation.
In September 2020, as part of a consent decree, the North Carolina Board of Elections extended the deadline by which absentee ballots must be received in order to be counted from three days to nine days after Election Day. State and national Republican leaders and the Trump Campaign sued to block the extension, and a federal district court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit denied their requests for an injunction. The plaintiffs have filed an emergency application with the Supreme Court to block the deadline extension.
In the amicus brief, the coalition supports North Carolina’s deadline extension for receiving mail-in ballots because:
- States have a duty to protect voter safety and participation amid the pandemic and USPS concerns: The Supreme Court has recognized that states have the power to regulate elections and must do so in ways that preserve the right to vote. During the pandemic, states have taken reasonable, common-sense steps to encourage safe vote-by-mail options, including by extending receipt deadlines. These extensions help ensure properly cast ballots are counted and boost confidence in voting by mail. As of October 12, more than 1.3 million registered voters in North Carolina requested absentee ballots for the November election, up from 170,000 by the same time in the 2016 general election. Given the influx of expected absentee voters and uncertainty surrounding USPS delivery, North Carolina’s deadline extension for receiving mail-in ballots is a reasonable move to ensure that all valid ballots cast on or before Election Day will count.
- Accepting mail-in ballots received after Election Day is a longstanding practice in many states: At least 22 states and the District accept absentee or mail-in ballots received after Election Day when the ballot is shown—via postmark or otherwise—to have been cast on or before Election Day. This practice has expanded during the COVID-19 pandemic, during which many states have extended their receipt deadlines to reduce the public health risks of voting in-person and accommodate potential delays in USPS service.
The brief is available at: https://oag.dc.gov/sites/default/files/2020-10/Wise-v-Circosta-Amicus.pdf
AG Racine is leading the friend-of-the-court brief and is joined by Attorneys General from California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington.
Protecting Voter Participation
Last week, AG Racine led a coalition of 13 state Attorneys General in a brief defending Minnesota’s deadline extension for mail-in ballots. He also recently led coalitions protecting voting access in Alabama, Mississippi, South Carolina and two Texas cases, and secured a preliminary injunction stopping U.S. Postal Service cuts that threatened the right to vote for millions of Americans planning to vote by mail during the pandemic. This follows efforts over the summer opposing unfair voting restrictions against returning citizens in Florida and North Carolina.
Voting in the District of Columbia
District residents can find information about registering to vote and voting by mail or in person in the November election on the D.C. Board of Elections website: www.dcboe.org. In the District, all active voters will be mailed a ballot and do not need a witness signature to submit their mail-in ballot. Voters can return their mail-in ballot by mail using the enclosed prepaid envelope, but it must be mailed by Election Day and arrive no later than November 13. Voters can also drop off their ballot at one of dozens of drop box locations before 8 p.m. on Election Day or at one of the vote centers during early voting or on Election Day. Mail-in ballots started to arrive during the first week of October; if voters did not receive a ballot by October 21, officials recommend planning to vote in person.
If voters don’t plan to vote by mail or did not receive a ballot, they can find a list of early vote and Election Day vote centers online. Vote centers will be open from 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. during early voting and from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Election Day. Registered voters can vote at any vote center during early voting and on Election Day. Citizens can also register to vote in person at a voting site with proof of residency.
OAG also recently published a Voter Advisory on Poll Monitoring to educate residents about protections against voter intimidation and a D.C. Voter Checklist to encourage residents to make a plan to vote.