After a documented decade of GOP gerrymandering and voter suppression in North Carolina, Republicans are sponsoring a controversial new bill called the “Election Integrity Act.”
If the voting bills introduced in the Republican-controlled NC Senate last week had been in place on Election Day 2020, many counties would have been unable to fully fund their elections and more than 11,000 legally counted absentee ballots would have been discarded, voting rights groups said on Monday.
The bills— Senate Bill 725 and Senate Bill 326 — made their way through various state Senate committees last week and are expected to get a vote in full body this week. They are part of the nationwide GOP push to suppress voting rights in the name of fighting non-existent voter fraud, these groups said at a news conference outside the Legislative Building in Raleigh.
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“We’re here today to defend our freedom to vote,” said Melissa Price Kromm, Director, North Carolina Voters for Clean Elections.
“There’s no denying it – the national attack on voting rights has come to North Carolina,” she said.
Here is a look at the bills in question:
- Senate Bill 725 would prevent local officials from using grants, contributions from nonprofits, or any other non-public funding to finance their elections. Money for elections normally comes from public sources, but the 2020 election was far from normal. It turns out it’s expensive to conduct an historic election in the middle of a pandemic. As voters shied away from the idea of in-person voting, both the state and local elections boards had to scramble to accommodate an unprecedented surge in absentee ballot applications. Pandemic or not, more voters participated in the 2020 election than in any other modern vote, and more than a million people voted by mail. Facing widespread budget shortfalls, scores of counties sought extra funding sources to buy pens for voters, pay for marketing campaigns to explain safety and rule changes, and to hire poll workers. SB725 would prevent counties from doing so. None of the bills provide more public funding, however, the voting rights groups say, leaving many smaller, rural counties with the chance of being unable to afford their elections.
- Senate Bill 326, named the “Election Integrity Act,” would cut off the time in which elections officials can accept absentee ballots. Since 2009, absentee ballots have been accepted up to three days after Election Day as long as the ballots were postmarked before Election Day. The new bill would invalidate any ballot that came in after 5 pm on Election Day. Mail delays were a huge problem in 2020, and even with the three-day grace period, many ballots that had been sent before Election Day did not get to officials in time. Citing data from the North Carolina Board of Elections, speakers on Monday said that more than 11,000 ballots that were legally counted in 2020 would have been discarded without the extra days. Republicans in the General Assembly said the move is necessary because voters deserve to know who won the election on Election night. But, this move would have no effect on the deliberate certification process which continues well after election day in order to ensure each vote is properly counted. It will still take days to officially name the winner, or in close elections, to even know who won. All this bill will do, the advocates say, is disenfranchise lawful voters, especially voters of color in rural counties.
“We’ve seen this Jim Crow,” LaMeshia Kaminski, the deputy political director for Advance Carolina said.
The US House of Representatives passed the For the People Act early this year in an attempt to prevent states from passing voting restrictions. Among other things it would expand the use of voting by mail and would make voter registration automatic. The Senate has yet to take up the bill.
SB 725 and 326 bills passed through various NC Senate committees last week with limited debate. When these groups tried to express their concerns during public comment period, they said, Republican leadership cut them short.
So they held the news conference instead.
“This legislature continues to act in bad faith,” said Allison Riggs, Executive Director, Southern Coalition for Social Justice. “It continues to rush through significant changes to voting and election procedures without adequate discussions with voters and with experts. That hurts North Carolina voters and gives rise to the very reasonable inference that this legislature does in fact intend the consequences of its actions: which is ineffective election administration and voter disenfranchisement.”
The groups spoke in front of volunteers and members holding signs calling the bills “Jim Crow 2.0,” and beside trash cans full of the symbolic ballots that they said would be discarded if SB 326 passes.
“These ballots are not just ballots,” Kaminski said.
“They are people that have been discarded. These are people that are in these trash bags. These are the people that have left the hurricane waters that are needing to access shelters but want to action their right to vote for the representation to clean up their areas. These ballots are the returning citizens as they come home from confinement facilities to elevate their voices and restore their right to be an active citizen. These ballots represent communities living with disabilities who need accessibility so they don’t need to leave their homes.”
She added: “This is called an Election Integrity Act, but there is no integrity in it.”
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