Cooper Vetoes Bill That’s an ‘All-Out Assault on the Right to Vote’

Senate Bill 747 passed both chambers of the Republican-controlled General Assembly last week on party lines. (Michael McElroy/Cardinal & Pine)

By Michael McElroy

August 24, 2023

Voting rights groups, elections officials, and Cooper himself have warned that Senate Bill 747 would make legal voting harder and complicate the elections process. 

Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed an elections bill on Thursday that would make it harder to vote and would likely cause thousands of valid ballots to be discarded on Election Day.

Senate Bill 747, which passed both chambers of the Republican-controlled General Assembly last week on party lines, has lots of moving parts

The bill prohibits local boards of elections from seeking outside financing for voting-related expenses, leaving them in the lurch if the state doesn’t give them the funding they need. It gives partisan poll observers far more room to roam voting sites, increasing the chances of voter harassment and intimidation. And it requires all mailed ballots to arrive by Election Day, erasing the current 3-day grace period popular with voters from both parties. 

The legislation, Cooper said on Thursday, is “an all-out assault on the right to vote.”

Republicans argued that the changes are necessary to prevent widespread voter fraud, which is virtually non-existent in North Carolina. 

But voting rights groups, elections officials, and Cooper himself have warned that the bill would make legal voting harder and complicate the elections process.

What Is SB 747?

“This legislation has nothing to do with election security and everything to do with Republicans keeping and gaining power,” Cooper said in a press release. “It requires valid votes to be tossed out unnecessarily, schemes to restrict early voting and absentee ballots, encourages voter intimidation and attempts to give Republican legislators the authority to decide contested election results.”

The removal of the grace period could be especially burdensome. Mail delays were a huge problem in 2020 and remain an issue, especially in rural counties. That three-day period is critical to preventing these delays from denying people their right to vote, voting rights groups say. 

If SB 747 had been in effect in 2020, elections officials would have had to toss out more than 13,000 valid ballots. Of those valid ballots, 3,819 came from Democrats, 3,759 ballots from Republicans, and 5,929 from unaffiliated voters. None of them were fraudulent. 

And it’s not just voting rights groups that supported the 3-day grace period. The General Assembly overwhelmingly approved it in 2009.

The change of heart is part of a larger plan, Cooper said to undercut election integrity, not to bolster it.

Senate Bill 747, influenced by the advice of former President Trump’s hand picked election denier, Cleta Mitchell, who was on the call helping him try to overturn the election in Georgia, is a blatant scheme to further entrench Republicans’ power by making voting harder for young and nonwhite voters who tend to vote more often for Democrats,” the governor said in the veto press release.

Bill Is Still Likely to Become Law

Voting rights groups had called on Copper to veto SB 747 and celebrated the move.

“Senate Bill 747 is filled with a number of bad ideas that would undermine North Carolinians’ freedom to vote,” Bob Phillips, Executive Director of Common Cause North Carolina, said in a statement. “We applaud Governor Cooper for vetoing this unnecessary and damaging bill. We call on the legislature to uphold this veto and stop attacking our voting rights.”

It is very likely, however, that the legislature has the votes to override the veto.

They have done so on every veto since Tricia Cotham switched from Democrat to Republican in the spring, giving Republicans the super majority they need to override vetoes without any Democratic support.

Last week, the legislature overrode Cooper’s veto of controversial education and anti-LGBTQ bills. 

Cooper said he would also veto a separate elections bill if the General Assembly passes it. 

Senate Bill 749 would overhaul the state’s boards of elections in a way that would likely snarl decision making.

All together, the bills show a concerted effort to suppress votes in a narrowly divided state, voting rights groups say. 

“These types of legislation have been shown to be targeted on certain groups, poor folks, low income folks, communities of color, and young people,” Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez, the president of the youth voter group NextGen America, said in an interview this summer. “And ultimately, a lot of these elections are won by small margins, so if they’re able to keep 1%, 2%, 3% of people from voting, that’s a success story.”

Author

  • 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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