As the 2020 elections approach, state lawmakers are working to protect absentee voters from fraud. 

If signed into law, Senate Bill 683 will require absentee voters to submit a ballot request form with a copy of their ID. This ensures the ballot is delivered directly to the voter and would prevent ballot “harvesters” from distributing absentee ballots to voters and potentially interfering with them. The bill would also direct the State Board of Elections not to release records of who requested absentee ballots until after the polls open on election day. Keeping those records private will help prevent third parties from identifying absentee voters and potentially tampering with their ballots or trying to influence those voters.

The bill is in the House Elections Committee. On Tuesday it passed the Senate, 49-0 .

The new anti-fraud legislation comes after absentee ballot fraud allegations during the 2016 and 2018 elections in North Carolina’s 9th U.S. Congressional District. The center of the controversy was Leslie McCrae Dowless, who was arrested in February for allegedly directing an absentee-by-mail voting fraud scheme. 

Dowless was arrested after a dramatic, four-day hearing by the State Board of Elections on irregularities in the 2018 9th District race. The election to fill the seat is Sept. 10.

The Senate bill would increase criminal penalties for people involved in similar absentee ballot schemes. It would also ensure that absentee-by-mail voting and “one-stop” voting, which is the legal term for early, in-person voting, are accounted for separately.

Sen. Warren Daniel, R-Burke, a bill co-sponsor, noted the bill makes it a crime to release voter information before an election. Daniel also suggested elections board members, who are partisan appointees, can game the system.

“It puts everyone on an equal playing field when it’s public,” he said. “When it’s private, you run the risk of it getting leaked by people on the Board of Elections to people they prefer.”

The State Board of Elections has worked with bill sponsors and legislative staff on the new measure. In March, the board recommended that voters shouldn’t have to submit photocopied IDs with their ballot requests, as the ID information could fall into the hands of third parties when they collect voters’ ballots. The Senate bill would make this situation less likely, as it would limit outsiders’ access to absentee ballots altogether.