The North Carolina Senate recently passed two important bills that seek improvement in how we elect people and who administrates elections in North Carolina. The Senate has made mostly reasonable adjustments to election procedures that should not overly burden any qualified citizen from voting.
Here we separate fact from fiction and add our proposed fixes that the North Carolina House should consider as they begin debating the bills.
The two bills that now have passed the North Carolina Senate are Senate Bill 747, mostly focused on changes to election administration rather than how voters cast ballots — which the John Locke Foundation explains here in detail — and Senate Bill 749, “No Partisan Advantage in Elections.” The second measure would restructure the Board of Elections by splitting the appointments between the majority and minority leaders in the General Assembly.
The new structure would ensure that one party does not have control of the State Board of Elections and the county boards. Two separate issues are at play here that are quite distinct: Who makes the appointments and the change from having the governor’s party controlling the boards to boards equally divided between Republicans and Democrats.
Fact: Voting in North Carolina is extremely accessible and will continue to be so.
Very few voters will see any difference in how they currently vote. North Carolina will continue to have no-excuse voting by mail and 17 days of required early voting in every county. If you are reading this, there is a 99.5% chance that nothing will change in how you vote. North Carolina citizens can request absentee ballots in various ways including online. North Carolina’s photo identification requirement for voters originally passed a decade ago but, finally coming into place, is relatively mild and comes with waivers and exceptions. North Carolina has made obtaining an I.D. easier and citizens now have had 10 years to prepare themselves.
Fact: Voting in North Carolina has become complicated and challenging to administer.
Voting used to be simple. You properly registered well in advance. You showed up on Election Day to a precinct where people knew you. Unless you were in the military or had another qualified excuse to vote absentee by mail, you voted on election day. If you showed up at the wrong voting location on election day, you were required to go to the proper voting location.
We now have a growing and diverse state. Fewer people know their neighbors. We allow people to vote by mail for any reason. We have 17 days of early voting. Every early voting location must have every possible ballot for any voter in their county. In a grossly irresponsible practice, we allow election-day voters to vote in the wrong precinct instead of requiring the most basic level of civic responsibility and sending voters to the right precinct so they get the correct ballot.
A myriad of legal decisions affect voting procedures.
Complexity breeds confusion and error. Greatly expanded access also brings ballot security concerns. This means election procedures constantly need review and adjustment.
Fiction: Suggested GOP changes are targeting black citizens and/or Democrat voters
Not only is there no evidence to support this, but there is also actual evidence to refute this. The two biggest changes in actual registration and voting procedures are:
- Requiring voters who register and vote on the same day during early in-person voting to prove their residency and their identity before their ballots count. More Republicans than Democrats registered during the early-voting period in 2020. Senate Democrats made some points about dorm-living college students having trouble proving residency. Senate Republicans amended the bill to fix that issue.
- Requiring mail ballots to be received by Election Day instead of the Friday after Election Day if postmarked by Election Day. In 2022, only about 5% of North Carolina voters used no excuse by-mail voting. Democrats won a majority of those votes, but Trump significantly won mail-in votes in 2016. Republican voters tend to be older, and over time traditional patterns of higher GOP mail performance will likely return. Voters will be told well in advance about the deadline. Some voters will adjust, and a few, as always, will miss the deadline. Absolutely no evidence indicates that this change impacts one side over the other or affects enough voters to make a difference.
Fact: The bill addresses important issues
John Locke Foundation experts have identified why “same day” and mail ballot deadlines need to be altered. Bill sponsors are addressing important issues and not chasing vote fraud conspiracy theories.
Dangerous Roy Cooper Fiction:
“The last thing our democracy needs is for our elections to be run by people who want to rig them for partisan gain.”
One day later “Roy Donald J. Cooper,” said Republicans were attempting to “ignore voters and rig elections.”
Gov. Cooper’s statements are false, illogical, Trumpian, and dangerous. Gov. Cooper has now teamed up with Donald Trump, the Pillow Guy Mike Lindell, and others who have attacked the legitimacy of our elections. His statements indicate that a board of equally divided Republicans and Democrats will rig elections for the GOP. I would like for Gov. Cooper to tell me who these lousy corrupt Democrats are that will rig elections for the GOP just because the boards are now even.
As a reminder, Cooper, Attorney General Josh Stein, and Democratic State Auditor Beth Wood all won extremely close elections under a GOP-controlled board of elections that did not attempt to rig elections for Gov. Pat McCrory and others.
Fiction: Evenly divided boards of elections will drastically reduce early voting
Leftists that are determined to keep Democrats in charge of all elections administration say that evenly divided election boards will be unable to agree on early voting locations, causing counties with multiple early voting sites to default to single early voting locations. As a former executive director of the North Carolina Republican Party, I guarantee this is absolutely false.
The lefty group Cardinal and Pine wrote:
“In particular this bill jeopardizes early voting options in all 100 counties. Under it, party-line local votes on early voting options could default to a deadlocked State Board, leading to one early voting site per county open only during business hours with one weekend option — a result that endangers North Carolinians’ favorite way to vote, forces working voters to drive long distances, and produces overwhelmingly long lines during any available voting hours.”
Ocracoke residents would be forced to take a multi-hour ferry to the Hyde County Board in Swanquarter.
Who are these rotten, no-good, sorry, Hyde County Board of Elections members that presumably live on the mainland that will conspire to keep the less than 900 remote island voters on Ocracoke from having early voting? Do you think the people of Ocracoke Island are going to put up with this? Do you think the high-profile members of the State Board of Elections, both Republicans and Democrats, are going to allow this? Not to mention the Federal Courts, who take a dim view of reversing long-established voting practices and would reverse this in a microwave minute.
Local boards of elections would work these things out on a bi-partisan basis as they always have. The State Board of Elections will serve as a check and will negotiate reasonable compromises.
Fixes: These bills still need work in the State House.
John Locke Foundation Chairman John Hood identified the biggest issue with the appointments bill. The administration of elections is an inherently executive function, and the governor should retain the privilege of appointing members to the State Board. As a former executive director, I believe the process of the governor picking from a list submitted by the chairs of the major political parties works.
I think the state board would be better served with 6 members than 8. Three Republicans and three Democrats selected from a list of 5 submitted by the chairs of the Republican and Democrat parties.
Instead of letting the General Assembly select the state board chair in case of an impasse, there should simply be a name drawing from a hat. The chair of the state board should rotate yearly between political parties.
The current system of selection of local boards of election should be retained. Legislative selection of local boards is simply unworkable. As proposed, the local boards should be evenly divided, but the selection process should not be altered. Should a local board be unable to decide on a bi-partisan basis who will chair, draw a name out of a hat. Local board chairs should rotate between parties on a yearly basis.
Another suggested change to the bill. Instead of allowing the legislature to select a permanent state elections director, if the State Board of Elections can’t decide on a new director, the legislature should be able to make an interim appointment, but only until the state board can select a permanent full-time director.
The bill would allow county commissioners to hire local election directors. I find this unwise for a variety of reasons. County commissioners should be consulted as should local election board members. However, the current system of the state board hiring local election directors should be retained.
The State House should amend S.B. 747:
Remove the ban on “bar coding” of absentee-ballot requests by private organizations. Private organizations use these codes to pay and track postage on mailing, encouraging supporters to vote by mail.
The state House should once again attempt to ban out-of-precinct voting. This continues to be an administrative nightmare.
The state House should allow/require NCSBE to allow citizens who vote by mail to upload their photo identification directly to the Board of Elections with a ballot I.D. number. This will allow mail voters to submit their I.D.s from their phone in lieu of including a photocopy.