Republican lawmakers are pushing forward two election-reform bills designed to shore up voting integrity following the 2020 general election debacle that included numerous accusations of fraud.
Sen. Paul Newton, R-Cabarrus, talked through the two bills at a news conference and in the N.C. Senate Elections Committee on Wednesday, March 31.
“There is a tension between free, fair, and secure,” Newton said. “As we come out of the 2020 election, there has been some erosion of the election system nationwide, and even right here in North Carolina.”
Newton said both bills relate to specific concerns that arose out of N.C. elections in 2020. “Our goal with this legislation is to restore trust,” he said.
The first measure, Senate Bill 360, would require the state attorney general’s office to get sign-off from the legislature before reaching a settlement on a lawsuit in which the General Assembly is a party. S.B. 360 is meant to resolve the type of situation that evolved in 2020 with actions taken by N.C. State Board of Elections Director Karen Brinson Bell.
“S.B. 360 should do away with these types of collusive lawsuits where you’re cutting the General Assembly out of the picture,” said Dr. Andy Jackson, director of the Civitas Center for Public Integrity at the John Locke Foundation.
A second bill, Senate Bill 326, would make four key changes to N.C. election law. The first would revise the deadline for absentee ballots to be received by local board of elections from three days after the election to end-of-business on Election Day itself. This change would return N.C. law to where it stood in 2009 and match 32 other states with the same deadline of Election Day.
Additionally, the bill would bar county boards of elections from accepting private donations to administer election services. This move would outlaw scenarios like the one that unfolded in 2020 involving donated funds from the Center for Tech and Civic Life, funded by Facebook founder Marc Zuckerberg and his wife. The CTCL donated so-called “Zuck bucks” to county boards of elections in 33 N.C. counties that ultimately ended up skewing Democratic in voting, compared to the 67 counties that received no money.
S.B. 326 would also expand the timeline for requesting an absentee ballot from seven days before Election Day to 14 days, in line with recommendations from the U.S. Post Office of 15 days. A fourth provision in the bill would allocate funds to create a “mobile voter ID unit” to help people get an ID.
Left-wing advocacy organizations have called S.B. 326 an act of “voter suppression” and a return to Jim Crow-era laws. During debate in the N.C. Senate Elections Committee, several Democrats spoke specifically in opposition to the provision in the bill that moves the deadline for absentee ballots to be received from three days after the election to Election Day.
Sen. Natasha Marcus, D-Mecklenburg, claimed she had received over 1,000 emails against S.B. 326 and only one in favor. “Your bill is telling [voters] they can’t vote, and that’s not inclusive,” she said.
Newton emphasized the importance of an efficient process following Election Day.
“Every day that passes without a declared winner just breeds suspicions and conspiracy theories in people’s minds,” he said in a statement. “That’s not healthy. Requiring that at least all the votes are in on Election Day helps minimize the delay in declaring a winner and, for the most part, helps wrap up the process quickly.”
Recent polling conducted by Cygnal on behalf of the John Locke Foundation found that 60% of Republicans voters, 43% of unaffiliated voters, and 20% of Democratic voters do not believe that the 2022 elections in N.C. “will be free and fair.”