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The state Board of Elections voted Friday to expedite the creation of voter photo ID rules to have them ready for upcoming municipal elections.
While they’re preparing to enforce the voter ID law, elections administrators are working to decipher proposed elections changes Senate Republicans filed Thursday.
The state Board voted unanimously to begin adoption of temporary rules for photo ID. After seeing how those rules work, the board can move to make permanent rules, said Board member Stacy “Four” Eggers.
Getting temporary rules approved doesn’t take as long as enacting permanent rules, and elections officials are in a “time crunch” to get rules in place and train poll workers, said Paul Cox, the board’s general counsel.
The first municipal primaries are scheduled for September 12 in Charlotte and Sanford, and absentee voting starts a month before, he said.
The 15-business day public comment period will start Monday, June 5. Comments can be submitted online, by email, or snail mail. An online public hearing is scheduled for 11 am, June 19.
An online public hearing is scheduled for 11 am, June 19.
The board has two proposed rules for photo identification for in-person voting and for absentee by mail voting.
More changes could be in store for future elections.
“Getting a handle on” new restrictions
Senate Republicans have proposed more voting restrictions for people who vote by mail.
Their bill would require signature matching for absentee ballots and two-factor authentication for those ballots before they’re opened. The bill does not detail how two-factor authentication would work.
“It’s new legislation we’re still getting a handle on,” state Elections Director Karen Brinson Bell told reporters after the meeting. “I think there’s a lot we need to have conversations with the legislature about.”
She cautioned that any ideas for change have a way to go before becoming law.
However, the Senate bill folds in measures that have won legislative approval in past years only to be struck down by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s vetoes.
For example, the bill would end the three-day grace period for mail-in ballots postmarked by election day to arrive at local elections offices and be counted.
Republicans now have veto-proof majorities in the House and Senate, giving them enough votes to overcome Cooper’s vetoes if they all stick together.
A new provision would require people who register during the early voting period to cast provisional ballots that are set aside pending verification.
As it is now, people who register during early voting must provide proof of where they live using a driver’s license or other government identification with a name and address, or a copy of a utility bill, paycheck or bank statement, or a college ID paired with proof of residence.
One of the ways that the bill envisions having early voters’ provisional ballots verified is by requiring them to bring the same information they used to register to their counties’ board of elections headquarters before polls close on election day. For some residents, that could mean trips of hundreds of miles to the county seat.
The bill keeps as one of the alternatives the current verification method of having mail delivered to the registrant’s address.
According to information from the state Board, in all even-numbered-year general elections between 2008 and 2022, a combined 450,333 new voters registered using same-day registration. Of those, 5,602 registrations, or 1.2%, were not verified through the typical mail verification process.
Mail verification can fail for a number of reasons such as data entry errors or mail service delivery limitations, an email from the Board’s spokesman said.
Adequate, consistent election funding needed
The state elections office does not have money to implement the suggested voting changes. Counties are working to pass their budgets by the end of this month and likely won’t have time to account for additional election administration costs that could come with changes in voting laws.
The bill would prevent state and local elections boards from using private donations for election administration.
State and county elections administrators accepted grants from the Center for Tech and Civic Life to help with extra expenses in 2020 that came with conducting elections during the COVID-19 pandemic. Foundations connected to Facebook billionaire Mark Zuckerberg helped fund the grants. Far-right groups denounced the grants as “Zuck bucks” meant to help Democratic counties.
The state board used the grant money for pens, on information on voting by mail, and to pay bonuses to people who worked during early voting, Brinson Bell said. The legislature approved bonuses only for people who worked Election Day.
Counties bought PPE, voting equipment, and used some grant money to make sure they had enough polling places that were properly staffed, she said. Rural, urban, blue, and red counties received grants, Brinson Bell said.
“While it’s not ideal to have private funds funding our elections, I think our state office and the county offices were very prudent in how they used that. There were no strings attached,” she said.
It comes down to adequate and consistent election funding, Brinson Bell said, “What we’re seeing right now from the legislature’s budget, particularly on the Senate side, is not doing that. In many ways, it’s actually cutting the funding of the state Board of Elections.”
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