Massive bill tightening NC voting laws moves toward adoption

By: - August 16, 2023 10:00 am

NC House Committee on Election Law and Campaign Finance Reform (Photo: Lynn Bonner)

A bill that tightens rules for voting while guaranteeing partisan observers more access to polling places and voting records is closer to legislative approval. 

Senate Bill 747 is a bundle of proposed restrictions that legislative Republicans have promoted this year. The bill passed the House Committee on Election Law and Campaign Finance Reform on Tuesday. Before the committee met, Republicans made minor changes to the bill Democrats recommended, but Republicans rejected all the proposed amendments Democrats offered during the meeting. 

The bill ends the grace period that allows mail-in ballots postmarked by Election Day to be counted if they arrive at elections offices within three days after the election. It would prohibit elections officials from accepting private donations or in-kind contributions to help run elections or pay temporary employees. 

Republicans around the country objected to grants connected to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg that boards of election accepted in 2020 to help run elections during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Under the bill, accepting donated space to establish a polling place would be allowed.

The Administrative Office of the Courts would pass along to the state Board of Elections the names of people who say they cannot serve on juries because they are not citizens. The elections board would search for those names on the voter rolls and remove them. 

The state board would set up a signature verification pilot program in 10 counties for the 2024 primary. The state board would help county elections boards select signature verification software. 

The bill would allow partisan observers to “move freely about the voting place,” take notes using electronic devices, and listen to conversations between elections officials and voters about election administration, as long as they don’t interfere with voter privacy or the election. 

The observers would not be able to look at or photograph voters’ marked ballots, stop people from going in and out of a polling place, or prevent elections officials from doing their jobs. 

The North Carolina Election Integrity Team, a group that is fueled by distrust of elections, wants expanded access to polling places and voter records and pushed some of the changes.

Jim Womack, president of that group, told the committee they had a good bill, but more could be done. 

Democratic legislative leaders blasted the measure as another way Republicans are making it harder for people to vote. 

“It opens the door for voter intimidation at polling places, completely undermines same day-registration during early voting and makes it easier to toss out valid ballots,” House Democratic Leader Robert Reives and Senate Democratic Leader Dan Blue said in a joint statement. “These changes do not improve the integrity of our elections – if anything they erode the trust of voters.”

The Republicans on the House committee rejected amendments Democratic members proposed. Including money for the signature verification pilot program, and making it easier for people who vote by mail to correct mistakes on their ballot envelopes were among the rejected ideas. 

Rep. Allison Dahle, a Wake County Democrat, wanted to carve out an exception to the donation restriction to make it okay to buy pizza, pens, and protective equipment for poll workers.  Republicans voted down her amendment. 

“Just pizza and ink pens then?” she asked. That idea was rejected too. 

The House Rules Committee will consider the bill Wednesday before it goes to a vote of the full House.

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Lynn Bonner
Lynn Bonner

Investigative Reporter Lynn Bonner covers the state legislature and politics, as well as elections, the state budget, public and mental health, safety net programs and issues of racial equality.