Op-Ed: Republican-Backed Bills Undercut Free and Fair Elections

Op-Ed: Republican-Backed Bills Undercut Free and Fair Elections

Sailor Jones, associate director of the pro-Democracy group Common Cause NC, speaks at a news conference outside the General Assembly on Wednesday. (Photo by Dylan Rhoney/Cardinal & Pine)

By Sailor Jones

June 14, 2023

Proposed legislation would cause thousands of valid ballots to be thrown out, a director of pro-democracy group Common Cause NC says.

This piece is adapted from remarks made by Sailor Jones at a press conference outside the General Assembly on Wednesday.

Common Cause North Carolina believes voters in our state deserve elections free from partisan manipulation. But just two weeks into June, we are already facing two of the General Assembly’s boldest moves aimed at ruining fair elections.

Senate Bill 747 is the “first of the worst.” To distract voters from extremists pulling the strings on the bill’s 16-pages of voting restrictions, proponents will tell you there is nothing in this bill that is out of line with how elections are conducted in other states.

But to be clear, SB 747 is far from how we should run elections in this state. Among other changes, SB 747 would install harsh new limits on mail-in voting that would make it possible for mail delays to dictate votes, and allow more people to challenge ballots and subject them to public inspection. 

Even if lawmakers were to follow through with only one of these changes — like ending the same three-day mail-in grace period Republicans unanimously championed in 2009 -– they will effectively toss thousands of valid ballots, including many from their own party, postmarked before Election Day but delayed by the USPS, natural disasters, or anything beyond the voter’s control.

In 2020, over 12,000 mail-in ballots were accepted during the period Republicans are so primed to cut. More than a quarter of those ballots came from GOP voters and over 40% were from unaffiliated voters. All would be tossed under their new rules. 

And since military and overseas voters keep their extended absentee period under federal law, the change won’t produce faster election results — becoming yet another failed justification for harming disabled, elderly, and student voters taking the brunt of this callous change. 

SB 747 would also gut same-day registration, impacting election experiences of hundreds of thousands of early voters. Under current law, voters who register and vote on the same day must attest to who they are and prove where they live. Regardless, SB 747 would deny a regular ballot to all of them, forcing these voters to instead cast a provisional ballot.

Remember: Over 116,000 North Carolinians used same-day registration in 2020, including more Republicans than any other party. But let’s also not forget who this is targeting – even if lawmakers allowed a regular ballot for a same-day voter who has a photo ID that matches their current address, most students do not have that. And thousands of our youngest voters – especially those first-time freshmen — will be the ones left out this time who may not come back the next.

SB 747 would also further defund elections, barring counties from accepting any private funds to ensure safe and secure elections — investments used by 97 of 100 counties in 2020. So, while bill sponsors have plenty to say about the perils of private funding, they’re awfully quiet when asked about helping to make up the difference.

Speaking of undercutting elections, before the ink was dry on SB 747, legislators introduced Senate Bill 749 — to manipulate boards of elections and ensure more gridlock for voting and less success for voters. Instead of a current clear path for making decisions, a deadlocked party structure on state and local boards will tie up everything – early voting plans, corruption investigations—everything.

In particular this bill jeopardizes early voting options in all 100 counties. Under it, party-line local votes on early voting options could default to a deadlocked State Board, leading to one early voting site per county open only during business hours with one weekend option — a result that endangers North Carolinians’ favorite way to vote, forces working voters to drive long distances, and produces overwhelmingly long lines during any available voting hours. 

While Sen. Warren Daniel is lucky enough to live in the county seat of Morganton, his fellow SB 749 co-sponsor Sen. Ralph Hise could have to travel 22 miles round trip from Spruce Pine to the Bakersville County Board of Elections to vote early. This is nothing compared to voters they might not be thinking of — like Ocracoke residents who would be forced to take a multi-hour ferry to the Hyde County board in Swanquarter.

This may be why North Carolinians already soundly rejected this type of total election takeover when lawmakers placed it on the ballot in 2018. Past attempts by the legislature to shift the governor’s authority have also been struck down as unconstitutional by courts and deemed out of line by all living ex-governors then too.

Both changes will bind elections in ways that are costly for counties, chaotic for voters, and calamitous for elections — giving Republican leaders the results they want in the only election they currently care about — 2024. With these bills, that same care clearly doesn’t extend to voters.

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