NC Senate Republicans propose sweeping voting changes including new rules for mail-in ballots

By: - June 2, 2023 6:00 am
the entrance to a voting precinct

Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Senate Republicans want new restrictions on voting that would require signature verification and two-factor authentication of mail-in ballots. 

In addition to these new requirements, Senate Bill 747 also folds in restrictions that Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper has vetoed in the past.

One provision in the bill eliminates the three-day grace period for mail-in ballots. Mail-in ballots that arrive up to three days after Election Day can be counted as long as they are postmarked by Election Day. The legislature approved the extra three days for mail-in ballots in 2009 with overwhelming bipartisan support. In recent years, Republicans have been trying to roll it back. 

“This is a continued, coordinated attack on mail-in ballots,” said Jeff Loperfido, interim chief counsel for voting rights at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice. 

Other provisions that Cooper has vetoed as separate bills in the past would require people who have said they can’t serve on juries because they are not citizens to be removed from voter rolls and would prohibit the state Board of Elections from accepting private donations to help with election administration. 

The legislature had been able to sustain Cooper’s vetoes from 2019 until this year, when Republicans regained veto-proof majorities. Republicans can override Cooper’s vetoes if they all stick together. 

Senate Democratic leader Dan Blue and House Democratic leader Robert Reives issued a statement denouncing the bill. 

“A Republican bill meant to restore the integrity of our elections is a red herring,” their statement said.  “Republicans have lost credibility in promoting election security — especially when they have been conspiring with election deniers direct from Trump’s camp behind closed doors. 

“Republican lawmakers want to safeguard their power, not our votes. Trump advisors have said publicly they want to suppress minority and Gen Z votes — and that’s who Republicans are listening to. We need common sense rules to protect our democracy from those that have lost sight of the importance of a fair and free election.”

Sen. Ralph Hise, a Mitchell County Republican and one of the bill’s sponsors, told WUNC this week that he met with Cleta Mitchell and others before filing the bill. Mitchell is an attorney who helped former President Donald Trump try to overturn the results of the 2020 election. She lives in North Carolina. 

The bill would write into law a signature matching requirement the state GOP wanted for last year’s election. 

The NC Republican Party petitioned the state Board of Elections to allow signature verification of absentee ballots. The State Board denied the request last summer in a 3-2, party-line vote. A judge rejected the GOP’s appeal of the Board’s ruling. 

“All these types of things really paint a narrative of trying to restrict mail-in ballots in the absence of any indication that there’s a problem with mail-in ballots,” Loperfido said in an interview. 

Another section of the bill focused on same-day registration could mean more election night cliffhangers and more back-end work for elections officials. 

People are allowed to register to vote during early voting periods. Same-day registration would still be allowed, but those who use it would have to cast provisional ballots. Provisional ballots are held aside for verification of voter eligibility.

All the new requirements would mean elections boards would have to make more changes to voting procedures in addition to preparing to implement the photo voter ID law this year, Loperfido said. And they would have to add those requirements without money to make them.  

“It seems impossible to do that without more training and without chaos at the polls,” he said. 

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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.