Lynn Bonner, NC Newsline
Voting rights groups and Democrats oppose North Carolina Republican senators’ proposed changes to election laws, saying they will harm elderly, disabled, and student voters, and voters of color.
The Senate has proposed two bills changing voting rules and stripping governors of their power to appoint members of the state Board of Elections, giving that power to legislators.
The Senate Redistricting and Elections Committee discussed the bills Wednesday and plans to vote on Thursday. Republican sponsors said the changes will increase faith in elections.
Voting rights groups condemned the proposals at news conferences and at the committee meeting.
Rep. Diamond Staton-Williams, a Cabarrus County Democrat, said Republicans are eliminating voting options popular with working people like her.
“The reality is extremists are taking over North Carolina,” she said. “I know it’s probably very jarring for me to say that and for people to hear that, but it is a fact.”
Shruti Parikh, voter engagement director at NC Asian Americans Together, called the bills “monstrous attacks on our fundamental right to vote.”
Senate Bill 747 would end the current cushion that is afforded to mail-in ballots postmarked by Election Day to be counted if they arrive up to three days later. Counties would also have to use signature matching software and two-factor authentication to verify mailed ballots.
Other states use signature verification software.
Sen. Julie Mayfield, a Buncombe County Democrat, noted that the software makes errors.
Sen. Warren Daniel, a Morganton Republican and one of the bill’s sponsors, acknowledged that there is no description of two-factor authentication or how it would work.
“It’s not been totally flushed out yet,” he said. “It’s going to be something that’s part of the future.”
Republicans have changed the bill from its original configuration to lower hurdles somewhat for people who use same-day registration.
As it is now, people are able to register and cast ballots during the early voting period when they have documents that show their current addresses. The first version of the bill would have required everyone using same-day registration to cast provisional ballots. Voters would then have had go to county boards of election to show the same documents they used to register in order to have their votes counted.
As the bill reads now, provisional ballots would be required of voters who don’t have a photo ID with an address matching their current address on a government document. Those voters would have to use two documents to verify addresses with boards of election.
Senate Bill 749 would restructure the state Board of Elections and county boards. The state board would increase from five to eight members, with Republican legislative leaders appointing four members and Democratic legislative leaders appointing four. If the board deadlocks on hiring a state elections director or picking a chairman, the legislature would make those choices.
As it is now the board is split 3-2 with the governor’s party holding the majority. Republicans have made several attempts to change the elections board since Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s election in 2016. Changes were twice rejected by the state Supreme Court and once by state voters.
Under the bill, county elections boards would have four members. Republican and Democratic legislative leaders would each appoint two members. County commissioners would appoint the local elections directors. As it is now, the state elections director appoints county directors.
Sen. Paul Newton, a Cabarrus Republican, insisted the proposals were not a GOP power grab because no one party would control the board. The even number of members will drive cooperation, he said.
Opponents argued that the legislature was creating conditions for deadlock under which Republican legislators would step in and appoint leaders.
“By making both the state and local boards of elections even numbers and making the General Assembly the tiebreaker anytime they can’t agree, in fact, we are putting the General Assembly front and center in making many of these decisions,” Mayfield said. “It’s sort of consent under duress by whatever the minority party is. And that’s hardly consent.
Andy Jackson of the John Locke Foundation supported both bills, but said shifting appointment power to the legislature could be a “constitutional problem” because elections are an executive function. He suggested moving appointments to another office, possibly the Secretary of State.
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