Proposed Bills Would Undercut Election Integrity, Bipartisan Elections Officials Warn

Workers prepare absentee ballots for mailing at the Wake County Board of Elections in Raleigh, N.C. in September, 2020. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome, File)

By Michael McElroy

July 17, 2023

The officials urged lawmakers to meet with county elections officials to hear from those responsible for the state’s elections how harmful some of these changes would be.

A bipartisan group of North Carolina elections officials warned Republican lawmakers last week that their proposed changes to election laws would disrupt the voting process, require expensive new measures without providing funding, and increase voter concerns about election integrity in the state.

Thirty two members of the Election Boards Association of North Carolina, split evenly among Republicans and Democrats, sent a letter to lawmakers on July 12 urging them to meet with county elections officials so that they could hear directly from the people responsible for administering elections about how harmful some of these changes would be.

Republicans have introduced several pieces of legislation over the last few months that would overhaul the state’s boards of elections in a way that would likely snarl decision making; shorten the timeline to vote by mail; limit funding for elections expenses; and allow partisan poll workers to have nearly free reign at voting sites.

Though voter fraud is extremely rare, Republicans lawmakers say that these proposed changes were necessary to prevent fraud and restore trust in elections.

The proposals, however, would do the opposite, the county officials wrote.

“We are an equal number of Republicans and Democrats who together have decades of practical experience in administering elections,” the group wrote.

“Like you, we are committed to ensure that North Carolina voters can have confidence in the security and fairness of our elections,” they wrote. bBut “some of the current proposals, if implemented, may have unintended consequences that can harm rather than protect the integrity of our elections.”

Senate leader Phil Berger’s office told the News and Observer that he and several other lawmakers had received the letter.

John Shallcross, a Republican from Johnston County and the president of the association, was the main signatory, and was joined by six other board members and 25 of the longest-serving members of North Carolina’s county board of elections.

The letter specified House Bill 772, which would allow poll watchers to record voter interactions with election officials; Senate Bill 749, which could create elections gridlock and give the General Assembly control over election decisions; and Senate Bill 747, which would make it harder to vote by mail.

Here’s what the association had to say about each:

  • “House Bill 772 would permit up to 12 partisan observers to ‘move freely around the voting enclosure’ at any time, as well as audio or video record their conversations with poll workers, voter intake paperwork and ballot machines – without capturing images of voters or ballots,” the officials wrote.

“As a practical matter, that level of activity would be disruptive, impossible to supervise, and increase rather than reduce voters’ concerns about secure and secret balloting.”

They also warned about provisions that make it a Class 1 misdemeanor for any election official who intervenes with a partisan poll watcher.

“We encourage you to contact your county election staff about the consequences of that provision for recruiting poll workers.”

  • “Similarly, you may wish to talk with staff about parts of Senate Bill 747 that will

significantly increase the number of provisional ballots and require substantial new funding to implement.”

  • “Regardless of how the structure of county boards of elections may change under Senate Bill 749, we are committed to fulfill our oaths of office and ensure that our professional staff members administer elections according to the law. Rather than the staff director being hired by county commissioners (whose election the staff must administer), we suggest it’s better for the county board of elections to hire the director we supervise – or, if we are unable to agree on a candidate within 90 days, then allow the county commission to appoint an interim director until we reach a decision.”

The letter echoes warnings raised by voting rights advocates.

The most transformative of the bills, SB 747, would end the three day grace period for absentee ballots, requiring that all ballots except for those from military and overseas arrive by 7 p.m. on Election Day.

These proposed bills would not prevent election fraud or produce faster results, but they would likely ensure that thousands of valid ballots are thrown out, widen funding gaps for necessary election expenses, and make it harder for students and voters of color to register and cast their ballots.

The letter from the county elections officials praised provisions in the laws that would modernize elections software and thanked lawmakers for their “hard work and public service.” The officials expressed confidence that the General Assembly would heed their warnings and address their concerns.

“Working together, we can help North Carolinians have confidence and pride in our elections system,” they wrote.



  • Michael McElroy

    Michael McElroy is Cardinal & Pine's political correspondent. He is an adjunct instructor at UNC-Chapel Hill's Hussman School of Journalism and Media, and a former editor at The New York Times.

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