‘There’s no integrity in it.’ Voting-rights advocates denounce NC elections legislation

Voting-rights advocates denounced moves in the legislature they said would put ballots at risk of not being counted and counties at risk of not having enough money to run elections.

“As we’re seeing across the country this year, hundreds of bills that chip away at voter access are being advanced at an alarming rate,” said Chantal Stevens, ACLU of North Carolina executive director. “The bills being considered in our General Assembly come from this national playbook.”

Speakers at a news conference Monday criticized three Senate bills

  • Senate bill 326 would set a deadline of 5 p.m. on election day for mail-in ballots, eliminating the three-day grace period for ballots postmarked by election day.
  • Senate bill 724 would require the State Board of Elections to set up an online voter registration system, even though the state Division of Motor Vehicles already has one. The news conference organizers said the proposal would “needlessly complicate online voter registration.”
  • Senate bill 725 would prohibit the State Board of Elections and county boards from accepting private donations to help fund elections. Last year, the State Board and county boards applied for grants from nonprofits to help fund elections in the pandemic, Policy Watch has reported. The State Board used the money for two mailers to voters, single-use pens, and bonuses for workers at one-stop voting sites. The legislature appropriated $100 bonuses for election day workers, but left out workers who staffed early voting sites. Those who worked at early one-stop early voting sites received $19.56 for each day they worked. The State Board and 35 counties received grants from the Center for Tech and Civic Life, funded by Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan. The USC Schwarzenegger Institute for State and Global Policy gave elections grants to 10 counties. Conservative commentators jumped on the grants financed with Zuckerberg money, and states including Georgia and Arizona are banning outside elections donations.

“Voter suppression is about control – the ability to keep certain groups from exercising our fundamental right to choose how we are governed,” Stevens said. “Although these bills may appear to make small changes, they would have a big impact on voters and weaken our democracy.”

For more than 10 years, North Carolina has had a three-day grace period for mail-in ballots that are post-marked by election day to arrive at county elections boards.

At a Senate committee meeting last week, Sen. Paul Newton, a Republican representing District 36 in Cabarrus and Union counties, said counting ballots after election day “causes distrust in the process.”

For the 2020 elections, about 11,000 mail-in absentee ballots arrived in the three days after election day. Trash bags filled with paper were placed beside the speakers’ stand Monday to symbolize ballots that would be thrown out if the three-day window had been closed for last November’s election.

“This is called an Election Integrity Act, but there’s no integrity in it,” said La’Meshia Kaminski, Advance Carolina deputy political director. “We’ve seen this Jim Crow,” she said. “This is 2.0.”

The legislature in 2009 voted unanimously to set the mail-in ballot return deadline for three days after an election, said Jane Pinsky, director of the NC Coalition for Lobbying & Government Reform. Sen. Phil Berger, now the chamber’s leader, and now-House Speaker Tim Moore were among those voting in favor.

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