Changes Make a Good Elections Bill Even Better

The North Carolina House Election Law and Campaign Finance Reform will hold a hearing on Senate Bill 747, An Act to Make Various Changes Regarding Elections Law, later today (August 15).

What Was in the Senate Version of the Bill?

Jim Stirling and I gave a short review of S747, at least as short as a review of a 23-part bill can be, in early June. That version packed numerous reforms into its 16 pages. Those reforms included:

  • Making election day the deadline for county boards of elections to receive absentee ballots (the current deadline is three days after election day)
  • Banning private funding of elections administration
  • Requiring election officials to keep a record of those providing assistance to in-person voters
  • Require bipartisan representation of election officials at early voting sites
  • Require the State Bureau of Investigation to investigate reported election crimes

Stirling also gave detailed reviews of what the bill’s impact would be on voters and electioneering groups.

We noted when the bill came out that we expected there to be changes to it:

Legislators and politicos will argue over parts of the election reform bill ad nauseum in the coming days and the bill’s final version will likely look different from its current form.

We were not wrong.

What’s New in the House Version of the Bill?

There are numerous additions to the bill in the S747 proposed committee substitute (PCS) being considered by the House. The bill has grown to 42 in the PCS.

Much of that growth is due to the PCS making early voting a unique voting method rather than the subset of absentee voting it is under current law. That required changes in several parts of election law. For example, the PCS strikes 66 mentions of “one-stop” or “one-stop absentee.” Most of those mentions are replaced with “early voting.” One practical difference of the change is that people voting early will no longer have to sign an absentee request application when they vote early.

The PCS also incorporates House Bill 772, reforms clarifying what election observers may and may not do at election sites, into S747.

Some of the other additional reforms in the PCS include:

  • Requires county boards to confirm same-day registrations (SDR) during early voting the same way they confirm all other voter registrations in order for a ballot associated with an SDR to be counted.
  • Requires semi-open primaries for those parties that nominate candidates through primaries, meaning that unaffiliated voters can vote in them. Parties currently have the option to make their primaries semi-open or closed (permitting only party registrants to vote).
  • Bans drop boxes and their equivalent. Hand-delivered mail ballots must be delivered to a human in the county board of elections office or at an early voting site. The State Board of Elections currently instructs voters who hand-deliver ballots to go to those places, but there has been some controversy about the legality of drop box equivalents in the past.

Finally, the PCS adds a severability clause, which would allow most of the bill to remain operative if a part of it is enjoined or struck down. That is crucial for a bill this size that will surely draw lawsuits from the usual suspects.

Senate Bill 747 was a good bill when it passed the Senate. The House PCS makes it even better.