Charlotte Observer (Op-Ed): GOP elections bill: This isn’t how we should run elections in NC
Charlotte Observer (Op-Ed): GOP elections bill: This isn't how we should run elections in NC
To distract voters from extremists pulling the strings on the North Carolina Senate’s latest round of voting restrictions, proponents of Senate Bill 747 will tell you there is “there is nothing in this bill that is out of line with how elections are conducted in other states.”
Regardless, SB 747 is far from how we should run elections in this state.
This sprawling, 16-page omnibus bill contains dozens of dramatic election law changes, showing just how determined Republicans are to obstruct all aspects of North Carolina’s voting processes ahead of 2024.
They propose to slash vital vote-by-mail options. Voting by mail is a lifeline for voters who are older, disabled or who have relied on mail-in voting since the pandemic. Even though the majority of North Carolinians oppose limiting the mail-in voting period, this bill limits it anyway.
It will shorten the mail-in ballot receipt deadline from 5 p.m. on the third day after Election Day to 7:30 p.m. on Election Day — a grace period that passed unanimously in 2009 with Republican support.
By adding this and other new barriers for mail-in voting, Republicans will effectively toss thousands of valid ballots, including many from their own party, postmarked before Election Day but delayed by an unreliable postal service, natural disasters or other situations beyond the voter’s control.
In the 2020 presidential election, over 12,000 mail-in ballots were accepted during the three-day grace period. According to State Board of Elections reports, over a quarter of these ballots came from Republican voters and over 40% were from unaffiliated voters. And since military and overseas voters keep their extended mail-in period under federal law, the change also fails at producing faster election results.
The bill also restricts North Carolina’s same-day registration during early voting. Under current state law, voters who register and vote on the same day must provide proof of residence and show a photo voter ID. Originally, SB 747 denied a regular ballot to all voters who use same-day registration. Changes to the bill last week now allow some same-day registrants to avoid a provisional ballot, but voters would still face onerous requirements which could ensnare many, including one of the bill’s likely targets: students.
This threatens tens of thousands of votes. While GOP leaders have long sought to make it harder on younger voters who tend to use same-day registration in higher numbers, their cynical change could easily backfire. Based on SBOE data, over 116,000 North Carolinians used same-day registration in 2020. That year, more Republicans used same-day registration than voters of any other political party in North Carolina (37% of same-day registrants (43,102) compared to 34% who were Democrats and 28% who were unaffiliated).
This bill also bars counties from accepting any private funds for conducting elections, an increasing Republican priority despite their chronic underfunding of election administration. This change would cut money used by 97 of 100 N.C. counties in 2020, to pay for everything from pens to poll workers.
While sponsors of this bill have plenty to say about the perils of private funding, they provide no alternative funding sources. The result will make voting harder, sow public distrust and ultimately depress turnout.
This bill also opens the door for purging more voters from the rolls by using outdated and unreliable jury duty disqualifications to remove eligible voters from the rolls. The real impact will expose the state’s naturalized citizens to potential harassment.
Other states may have tried these changes. But just because they jumped off that bridge doesn’t mean North Carolinians deserve the same fate.
Sailor Jones is the Associate Director of Common Cause North Carolina.
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