Special to Iredell Free News

RALEIGH — As a result of recent changes in state law, in-person early voting results will be reported later than usual on election night for the 2024 primary. This, in turn, may cause Election Day results to be reported later as well.

Previously, county boards of elections could tabulate early voting results before the close of polls, then report those results almost immediately at 7:30 p.m. on election night.

Under changes made in Session Law 2023-140, Section 29, county boards must wait until 7:30 p.m. to “close the polls” on early voting tabulators and begin the process of counting and reporting results of ballots cast during the early voting period.

This process will take an estimated 30 to 60 minutes – and possibly longer in some counties – before unofficial early voting results can be posted publicly on the State Board of Elections’ Election Results Dashboard.

Because the March 5 primary will be the first election held under the new law, election officials do not know exactly how long it will delay the reporting of results. State Board staff will monitor the situation throughout election night and assist county boards of elections, if necessary.

“Those who watch election results in North Carolina have come to expect a large chunk of results very soon after polls close,” said Karen Brinson Bell, executive director of the State Board of Elections. “That will not happen this year, although the State Board and county boards of elections remain committed to providing unofficial results as quickly as possible. We ask for patience from voters and candidates as election officials comply with changes to election laws that affect election night processes.”

Unlike early voting results, absentee-by-mail results can be tabulated before the polls close under state law. Those absentee results will likely be the first to appear publicly for any given county when the polls close. They will include all absentee ballots returned to the county boards of elections before Election Day. Under state law, ballots returned on Election Day are approved and added to the vote totals during the 10-day period after Election Day known as the “canvass.”

Another law change in Session Law 2023-140, Section 35, requires absentee ballots to be returned to the voter’s county board of elections no later than 7:30 p.m. on Election Day. Previously, a ballot that was put in the mail by Election Day and properly postmarked could be counted if it arrived by the third day after Election Day. That grace period no longer exists. Now, absentee voters should place their ballot in the mail with sufficient time for it to arrive at the county board of elections by Election Day.