An elections bill filed late Wednesday night and approved by a House committee Thursday morning is causing chaos and concern among state elections officials and watchdog groups.
The new version of Senate Bill 325, which until today was a bill dealing with tax policy, would change early voting, a political and legal flashpoint in the state, in a number of fundamental ways.
- Early voting would begin on Wednesday, Oct. 17 and end Friday, Nov. 2. That would eliminate the final Saturday of early voting — the most popular early voting day, especially among Black voters in North Carolina. In 2014, 103,513 voters voted on that day and in 2016 it was 193,138. Unlike Election Day, early voting is a “one stop” period in which people can register to vote on the same day.
- All early voting sites would have to have uniform hours — 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. — during weekday early voting. While weekend voting could differ from those hours, all sites would still have to have uniform hours. Right now county election boards have the flexibility to determine early voting hours based on past experience and expected traffic.
Presenting the bill during the House committee meeting, Rep. David Lewis (R-Harnett) said it would provide greater access and uniformity during early voting.
Critics of the proposal disagree. They say mandatory 12 hour shifts at voting sites on weekdays will likely be difficult for some counties to sustain with volunteers already hard to come by. This will likely result in fewer sites, they said.
Greg Flynn, chairman of the Wake County Board of Elections, was on hand to make that point at Thursday’s House committee hearing. He told lawmakers the board is already beginning to plan sites and times. A change of this sort could make that harder, he said.
Flynn took to Twitter throughout the day to comment on the bill and what it would mean for those who organize and volunteer during elections.
Bob Phillips, executive director of Common Cause NC, criticized both the process and the effect. “A bill introduced near midnight and rushed through a committee process the next morning could have a major impact on voters’ rights,” Phillips said in a statement.
“Early voting has been widely used by voters of all parties,” Phillips said. “Over the past several elections, hundreds of thousands of ballots have been cast on the final Saturday of early voting. These proposed changes would especially hurt African-American voters, who have utilized early voting at a higher rate than other groups. The result of this senseless bill would be fewer options for voters, confusion among the public and increased barriers to the polls.”
Democracy North Carolina’s Executive Director Tomas Lopez agreed. Read more