NC Democratic legislators introduce sweeping election reform bills

By: - April 14, 2021 9:00 am
Image: Adobe Stock

Rallying for election reforms, House Democrats unveiled a new bill entitled the “Fix Our Democracy Act” and highlighted a recently introduced measure designed to safeguard voting rights at a press conference Tuesday.

Rep. Marcia Morey, D-Durham, said the Safeguarding Voting Rights bill (HB 446) she’s co-sponsoring “gives no favor to any party” by focusing on four areas to ensure ease and accessibility for voting: voter registration and absentee/mail-in voting, recruitment of pollworkers, increasing flexibility for voting hours and the rights to vote during state holidays.

Rep. Marcia Morey, D-Durham

Morey stressed the importance of expanding mail-in voting. The bill would require the state Board of Elections to send out absentee ballot requests to every eligible voter with pre-paid postage at least 90 days before Election Day. The bill would make the one-witness requirement enacted temporarily by the General Assembly for the 2020 elections a permanent measure. The bill further requires at least one drop-off site in each county. Ballots postmarked by Election Day would still be counted if received no later than three days after the Election Day at 5 pm.

“My colleagues and myself strongly believe this is the time we encourage people to vote,” Morey said.She noted that  HB 446 seeks to make voting secure and easy and noted the many restrictive voting bills have been introduced across the country.

Rep. Ashton Clemmons, D-Guilford, previewed another new bill HB 542. She said the Fix our Democracy Act aims to fix our democracy “each person having an equal voice”

Rep. Ashton Clemmons, D-Guilford

Clemmons explained that the proposal builds upon House and Senate bills with the same name from 2019, by advancing a series of reforms in elections, redistricting, voting, campaign finance, lobbying and transparency. Neither of the 2019 bills made it out of their committees.

A Senate version of HB 542, SB 716 has also been introduced by Sen. Jeff Jackson, D-Mecklenburg.

Among the Fix Our Democracy Act’s provisions are:

Voting and redistricting

  • Online and automatic voter registration – The measure allows eligible citizens to register to vote automatically whenever they interact with government agencies, such as the DMV, unless they decline to do so. A voter purge would only be allowed when the nonforwarding postcard from the county board of commission was returned.
  • At least one polling place required on college campuses with over 4,500 enrolled students.
  • Creation of the NC Citizen Redistricting Commission composed of 15 voters — five Republicans, five Democrats and five members of other parties or unaffiliated voters — eight of whom would be appointed by the House and Senate and seven chosen at random. The commission would have the authority to redraw voting district without the participation of the legislature, which is set to redraw the maps with public scrutiny later this year based on 2020 Census data. However, the Census Bureau delayed the original March 31 deadline for releasing redistricting data, which are now scheduled to come out by the end of September. The Commission would have a chance to redraw the maps between 2023 and 2030 in case of any court disputes around the maps drawn later this year , and have the sole power of redistricting every ten years starting 2030 under the bill’s proposal.

Judicial reform

  • The bill would revive nonpartisan judicial elections at the state appellate court level. Currently, all judges and justices in North Carolina appear on the ballot with a party label next to their names. Republican candidates swept all the appellate seats in the 2020 election.
  • Public financing for the state Supreme Court and Court of Appeals elections, a scheme many judicial candidates opted into while it was and option under state law from 2004 and 2013.

Legislature Accountability

  • Strengthened transparency on posting meeting notices and streaming of legislative sessions. The bill calls for 48-hour notice of meetings and 24-hour notice of agendas.
  • Extending the “cooling-off period”, the time between when a legislator retires and when they can register as a lobbyist, from six months to two years.

Campaign Finance

  • Disclosure of true sources of spending,
  • Funding disclaimers on the influence of foreign nationals in issue ads (i.e. campaign ads not specific to a candidate but targeting bills or certain industries), and
  • Limitations on Super PACs, requires reporting of large contributions in the final days before an election to be disclosed in time

“This [Fix Our Democracy Act] is a sweeping package of democracy reforms that will expand and protect voting rights for all, end partisan and racial gerrymandering, get big money out of politics, restore transparency and accountability in our government, and ensure fair and impartial courts,” said Melissa Price Kromm, the director of North Carolina Voters for Clean Elections said in a statement.

The Safeguarding Voting Rights Bill was referred to House Rules Committee. HB 542 and SB 716 have not been assigned to committees as of this writing.

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