NC Democrats push for common sense voting reforms

Say this much, at least, for those legislators who favor making it easier, not harder, for North Carolinians to vote: They’re not ready to surrender to their vote-suppressing foes.

Even as key Republicans in the state Senate push changes to absentee voting rules whose main purpose would be to gum up the works, a group of House Democrats is pushing the other way.

Their bill entitled “Safeguarding Voting Rights,” introduced March 31 as House Bill 446, would protect popular voting options and in general encourage citizens to have their say at the polls.

It likely has zero chance of passage in a General Assembly controlled by Republicans in sync with the party’s national effort to downsize the electorate in its favor. But it shows the kind of steps that could be taken to strengthen our state’s voting procedures if maximum participation is the goal – while highlighting the divide between those who think maximum participation works in the public interest and those who don’t.

Here’s another point that needs to be made as Republicans from the former president on down continue to raise unfounded concerns about voter fraud. Of course the provisions of HB 446 would have to be carefully vetted to avoid any compromise of election security. But there’s no reason to think that shoring up access to the polls has to pave the way for cheating, or worse, that it’s meant to do so.

We should instead recall the high standard of efficiency and honesty that the state’s elections officials managed to meet even as turnout surged during the presidential election conducted last fall amid a deadly pandemic. For those worried about “election integrity,” now a favorite Republican cause, virus-era adjustments that helped people vote safely and securely should have drawn cheers, not jeers.

HB 446 so far has 32 sponsors, all Democrats – amounting to a majority of the party’s 51 House members (vs. 69 Republicans). Its primary sponsors are Reps. Marcia Morey of Durham, Allison Dahle of Raleigh, Kandie Smith of Greenville and Amos Quick III of Greensboro. Among the bill’s notable features, it would let absentee voters submit their ballots with the signature of only one witness rather than two.

The one-witness rule was approved by the legislature as a stop-gap response to the risks posed by in-person contact during the pandemic, but it now has lapsed. There’s ample reason to extend it, even if the COVID-19 threat continues to fade. It makes absentee voting more convenient with no evidence that it facilitates fraud. A huge increase in the number of absentee voters was a significant driver of 2020’s high turnout, and no doubt many of those voters would choose that method again if didn’t pose undue hassles.

Ballot ballet

The bill would affirm that as provided under current law, voters could apply for absentee ballots as late as the Tuesday before an election, and if a ballot was submitted by mail, it would count so long as it was received by the third day after Election Day.

However, it appears to drop the requirement that ballots also must be postmarked by Election Day. That presumably is in recognition that some mail these days isn’t postmarked at all. Yet the notion that ballots might be counted even if they were mailed after voting was supposed to have ended shapes up as a red flag.

Republican-sponsored Senate Bill 326, now pending, would advance the application deadline by a week and make Election Day the cutoff for receipt – essentially giving absentee voters the bum’s rush. Read more

No, Colorado voting laws aren’t more restrictive than Georgia’s

Scene from a 2019 game in Denver – Photo: Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)

Misinformation about election laws spreads following relocation of MLB All-Star Game to Denver

Colorado sports fans will get an unexpected treat this summer when Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game comes to Coors Field on July 13, the league officially announced on Tuesday.

“This all moved very quickly,” Denver Mayor Michael Hancock said in a press conference Tuesday. “What usually takes months or even years to happen, happened in just a matter of days. But we are absolutely honored and thrilled.”

The last-minute relocation comes days after MLB announced that it would pull the event from its scheduled venue, the Atlanta Braves’ home stadium in Cobb County, Georgia, over objections to a wave of new voting restrictions enacted by state lawmakers in the wake of President Joe Biden’s narrow victory in Georgia in the 2020 election.

“Major League Baseball fundamentally supports voting rights for all Americans and opposes restrictions to the ballot box,” league commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement announcing the move. “In 2020 … we proudly used our platform to encourage baseball fans and communities throughout our country to perform their civic duty and actively participate in the voting process. Fair access to voting continues to have our game’s unwavering support.”

The decision was quickly denounced by Republicans in Georgia and beyond, and following the first reports of the All-Star Game’s relocation to Denver, conservatives seized upon a series of false or misleading claims about Colorado voting laws in an attempt to portray MLB’s decision as hypocritical. In one widely shared tweet, Fox News pundit Lisa Boothe accused the league of relocating the event to “a state that has more restrictive elections” than Georgia.

Both Republican and Democratic elections officials in Colorado routinely praise its election system as a “gold standard” for voting across the country, and its turnout rate of 76.4% was second-best among states in 2020, according to the U.S. Elections Project. That’s significantly higher than Georgia’s turnout rate of 67.7%.

“I’m thrilled with the decision to move the MLB All-Star Game to Coors Field in Denver,” Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold said in a statement Tuesday. “The truth is Colorado’s election model works. We mail ballots to all voters, have early voting, and same day voter registration. Voters can participate easily in our elections, which are also the most secure in the nation.”

Colorado, which adopted universal mail-in voting in 2013, has such a profoundly different voting system than Georgia that direct comparisons between the states’ two sets of election laws can be difficult. But a review of the key provisions in Georgia’s new elections law, Senate Bill 202, shows clearly that virtually none of its controversial restrictions are currently the law in Colorado.

Colorado automatically sends a mail-in ballot to every registered voter in the state. Georgia just made it illegal for elections officials even to send applications for mail-in ballots to voters.

Absentee or mail-in voting surged in Georgia in 2020 amid the coronavirus pandemic, encouraged by state and local elections officials who mailed blank applications for absentee ballots to every voter in the state for its June primary election, and to every voter in some of its most populous counties during the general election.

That will now be illegal under Georgia’s new law, which allows absentee ballot applications to be mailed only upon request by an individual voter — a far more restrictive system than exists in Colorado, where every active registered voter in the state automatically receives a ballot in the mail roughly a month prior to each primary and general election.

Colorado doesn’t require voter ID for mail-in ballots. Georgia just passed such a requirement. Read more

National nonprofit: NC among states at “extreme risk” of gerrymandering

Image: https://represent.us

It comes as little surprise, but a new report from the nonpartisan nonprofit, Represent Us, finds that North Carolina is one of several states at “extreme risk” for political gerrymandering.

The detailed 160 page report provides an analysis of the situation in all 50 states and shines a special spotlight on seven — Florida, Georgia, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Wisconsin, and North Carolina.

And while the report lifts up those states that have already addressed the gerrymandering problem through the enactment of state-level legislation, it also points out that the best and most obvious solution (at least when it come to the problem of rigged U.S. House elections) lies with the passage of comprehensive federal reform:

The US Senate is currently considering — and the US House has passed — legislation that would end the gerrymandering of congressional districts. Passing the For the People Act (H.R.1 / S.1), or a similar reform bill, would all but eliminate the threat of rigged congressional maps nationwide. With 25% of congressional districts already at a low threat of gerrymandering, this bill would wipe out the threat in the remaining 325 districts, or 75% of the U.S. House.

Click here to explore the report. The North Carolina section starts on page 97.

New poll shows broad support for automatic voter registration, an end to gerrymandering

Image: NC State Board of Elections

New polling from the Democratic-affiliated research and advocacy group Carolina Forward finds strong support for a pair of progressive democracy reforms already implemented in a number of other states, but long resisted by the GOP leadership at the North Carolina General Assembly: automatic voter registration and an end to partisan gerrymandering.

This is from the news release that accompanied publication of the poll results:

The latest Carolina Forward poll shows that automatic voter registration is very popular in North Carolina. 56% of North Carolina registered voters support automatic voter registration, compared to only 40% opposed. Majorities of both Democrats (85%) and Independents (52%) support the proposal, as well as 1 in 4 Republicans (28%).

…The new poll also revealed that gerrymandering remains a top voting issue, with large majorities of every political affiliation supportive of ending the practice.

The poll found that 65% of registered voters agreed with the statement that “ending gerrymandering is an important voting issue to me” while only 11% disagreed. Just under 25% were unsure.

The polling also found continued solid support for Gov. Roy Cooper’s job performance (52%-approve, 40% disapprove) and handing of the COVID-19 pandemic (54%-positive, 44%-negative).

Click here to explore all of the polling details.

The survey was conducted March 31 to April 1 by Public Policy Polling.

Republicans aim to shorten absentee ballot deadlines, end private donations for elections

Legislators started their discussion of an elections bill that would prevent counting of mail-in ballots that arrive after Election Day.

Republicans are angry about the lawsuit settlement last fall that allowed mail-in absentee ballots postmarked by Election Day, Nov. 3,  to be counted as long as they arrived by Nov. 12.

Current law allows ballots that arrive up to three days after Election Day to be counted.

Senate Bill 326 would get rid of any cushion that allows for delayed postal deliveries or for ballots mailed on Election Day.

The bill would set a deadline of the second Tuesday before an election for absentee ballot requests.

“We’re receiving ballots after the election date,” said Sen. Paul Newton, a Cabarrus County Republican. “That creates concerns in the voters’ minds.”

Democrats on the Senate committee pressed Newton on Wednesday for a postmark date by which voters could mail their ballots and still have them counted.

They said with postal delays, ballots could be mailed far ahead of Election Day and still not count if they arrive at county elections board offices late.

“The bill doesn’t provide a deadline for when a voter needs to put a ballot in the mail,” said Sen. Natasha Marcus, a Mecklenburg County Democrat.

“Our current law is clear about what the deadline is,” she said. “This bill leaves it completely unknown.”

Senators talked about the bill, but did not vote on it.

The bill also prohibits the State Board of Elections and county boards from accepting private grants.

The state Elections Board received grants from the Center for Tech & Civic Life for elections administration. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, gave the Chicago-based nonprofit $400 million last year, the Washington Post reported. Jurisdictions throughout the country applied for and received money.  Elections officials needed it because the federal government did not provide enough funding to run elections in the pandemic, according to NPR. The grants stirred conservative opposition even before the election, The New York Times reported. Arizona is also working on a bill to block private donations for elections, NPR reported.

The State Board of Elections received $1 million from the Center for Tech & Civic Life for 6 million single-use pens it bought and distributed to counties for use at election sites.

It received $1.4 million for election communications – one mailer had instructions on where to return mail absentee ballots and the other had information on voting safely in person.

“Without the $1,410,000 grant, our communication with voters would have been limited to the NC Judicial Guide, social media, and press releases, as no additional funds were appropriated or authorized for advertising or marketing efforts regarding absentee by mail voting or the safety measures in place for in-person voting,” State Board of Elections Executive Director Karen Brinson Bell said in a January memo.

The State Board also received nearly $2.3 million for bonuses for workers at one-stop early voting sites, according to an email from the State Board. The legislature appropriated $100 bonuses for people who worked on Election Day, but no bonuses for one-stop early voting workers, the email said. One-stop voting is the state’s most popular voting method “so those workers faced as much risk or greater risk as Election Day workers,” the email said. The money was divided among about 10,000 people who worked during early voting. Some worked the entire 17 days, and others a day or two. They received bonuses of $19.56 for each day they worked, the email said.

Twenty-seven North Carolina counties applied for and received grants,  according to the Center for Tech & Civic Life website.

The USC Schwarzenegger Institute for State and Global Policy gave elections grants to 10 North Carolina counties, according to its website.

The government should pay for elections, not private donors, Newton said, because the private money creates an appearance of impropriety.

“Elections should not be brought to you by Facebook,” Newton said. “We have ample money to fund a solid elections process.”