A Senate committee Tuesday lumped sweeping election law changes into a House-approved bill that would require voters to produce a photo ID in order to cast a ballot.
If approved by the General Assembly and signed into law, the broad new election law would curtail early voting, eliminate same-day registration at early voting sites, eliminate straight-ticket voting, and repeal the state’s “stand by your ad” law.
Sen. Bob Rucho, R-Mecklenburg, the Senate sponsor of the current version of House Bill 589,, said the bill was reforming an “outdated, archaic, and form of state election code that hasn’t been adjusted in many years, at least three decades.”
“What we have is reforms to introduce transparency into the election process and create guidelines that everyone can understand simply and clearly,” Rucho said.
The version of the bill presented last week to the Senate Rules Committee largely focused on voter ID, absentee ballot, and various education provisions.
But Senate leaders made it clear last week that they could expand the measure before bringing it to the full chamber.
The voter ID portion of the bill would require all voters to present a state-approved photo identity card at polling places by the 2016 elections. The state would operate a phase-in program in 2014. Elections officials that year would ask voters for an ID at the polls, but an ID would not be required.
The bill defines acceptable photo IDs as a N.C. driver’s license or state-issued ID card, a U.S. passport, a U.S. military ID card, a veterans ID card, a tribal ID card, or a driver’s license or special ID card from another state if the voter had registered within 90 days of the election.
The bill won the support of the Senate Rules Committee and was headed for the Senate floor.
Senate Democrats, however, offered opposition to the voter ID and numerous other portions of the bill.
“You’re going to have a situation with this bill where you’re going to have people who have voted all their lives and they’re going to show up to the polling place and not have what they need to vote,” said Senate Minority Leader Martin Nesbitt, D-Buncombe. “That is outrageous.”
The bill would shorten the early voting period. Early voting, under the proposed bill, would begin the second Thursday before an election. Currently, the start date is the third Thursday before an election. It would end at 1 p.m. on the last Saturday before an election.
The bill also would discontinue same-day registration, where voters can register to vote at an early voting site and then cast a ballot.
The bill also would change the way vacancies in some elected offices are filled. It would require the governor to fill U.S. Senate vacancies with a replacement from the same political party as the person leaving the office until an election could be held for a permanent replacement.
It would require a study of alternative methods to fill vacancies in the U.S. House and the General Assembly.
The bill also would:
• Require local special election dates to coincide with state, county, or municipal general elections, except for elections related to the public health or safety, or municipal incorporation. Specified recall elections would be allowed on other dates also, as would new elections ordered by the courts or State Board of Elections.
• Allow political parties to designate at-large observers to view any voting place in the county.
• Eliminate the pre-registration of 16 year olds. Currently, such persons automatically are registered when they reach their 18th birthday.
• Prohibit people registering voters to be compensated based on the number of forms submitted.
• Require a candidate wishing to withdraw his or her candidacy to do so at least three days before the date on which the right to file for that office expires.
• Require voting systems to generate an individual paper ballot marked by the voter by the 2018 elections, effectively eliminating touch-screen voting in the state by that date.
• Provide that the order of political parties on the ballot would be determined by which party receiving the most votes in the most recent gubernatorial election.
• Eliminate the discretion of county election boards to extend polling hours until 8:30 p.m. The State Board of Elections could extend the closing time if polls have delayed openings or interruptions during the day.
• Eliminate the N.C. Political Parties Financing fund and other tax-paid campaign financing.
• Increase the maximum individual campaign donation limit from $4,000 to $5,000 per election.
• Require that voters can vote only in the precinct in which the voter resides.
• Eliminate the instant-runoff election to fill judicial vacancies.
• Allow candidates and political committees to conduct raffle fundraisers.
• Increase the maximum donation to political candidates from $4,000 to $5,000, with the amounts allowed to increase with inflation.
The bill also sets up the potential of North Carolina holding an earlier presidential preference primary. If South Carolina holds its presidential primary before March 15, the N.C. presidential primary would be held on the Tuesday after the first South Carolina presidential primary.
Barry Smith (@Barry_Smith) is an associate editor of Carolina Journal.