RALEIGH, N.C. — Mailed-in ballots postmarked by 5 p.m. Nov. 3 — Election Day — should be accepted by the North Carolina Board of Elections until Nov. 12, according to a U.S. court of appeals ruling late Tuesday night.
The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals made the decision in a 12-3 vote just two weeks before Election Day.
"All ballots must still be mailed on or before Election Day," according to the ruling. "The change is simply an extension from three to nine days after Election Day for a timely ballot to be received and counted. That is all.
"North Carolina voters deserve clarity on whether they must rely on an overburdened Post Office to deliver their ballots within three days after Election Day," the ruling continued. "The need for clarity has become even more urgent in the last week, as in-person early voting started in North Carolina on October 15 and will end on October 31."
The North Carolina Attorney General's Office and the North Carolina Board of Elections have been battling Republican lawmakers to extend the election's collection date due to delays with the U.S. Postal Service and the increased volume of people voting by mail because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Attorney General Josh Stein announced the ruling on Twitter Tuesday night, calling it a "huge win."
"By a 12-3 margin, the Court rejects the Republican legislators' effort to disallow votes cast & mailed back on or before Election Day but received after 11/6," Stein wrote. "The 'simple and commonsense change' approved by the state court to extend the deadline 3 days to 9 days does not change voters' obligations — all ballots must still be mailed on or before Election Day. But it recognizes the reality of an overburdened postal service."
More than 2 million North Carolina voters have cast their ballots in the election so far, through mail-in ballots and early voting, The News & Observer reported Tuesday afternoon.
That includes more than 1.3 million people at early voting sites across the state and more than 655,800 mail-in ballots, according to the State Board of Elections.
Behind the scenes, three of North Carolina's new voting rules have been in limbo as two federal lawsuits and a state lawsuit are being decided.