- The proposed changes to mail-in voting would have minimal impact — in 2022, 99.8% of all ballots were in by election day
- The impact of the bill’s changes to same-day voter registration simply requires one additional form of ID and provides multiple ballot cure processes for voters prior to the official county canvass
- The bill would add protections for felons who may attempt to vote before their voting rights have been fully restored
The North Carolina Senate on Wednesday, June 21, passed an elections reform bill, Senate Bill 747, that would make several reforms to state elections law. Even though most of those changes would be procedural and not directly impact voting, many left-wing activists and news organizations have attempted to frame the bill as a nefarious action to rig elections — including claiming it was designed by Cleta Mitchell, one of former Pres. Donald Trump’s attorneys.
The argument that Mitchell had a hand in the bill has been refuted by Senate leadership. Instead, many of the reforms in the bill have been advocated by the John Locke Foundation for years. Other reforms appear to address previous overreaches by the State Board of Elections.
The bill’s latest version has 32 sections, but even so it would have little direct impact on voters. It would make only three substantive changes that would impact voters directly. Most of its provisions would pertain to electioneering organizations and state and local boards of elections.
The only changes that would directly impact voters would be the changes to mail-in ballot deadlines, the two-factor authentication process for mail-in ballots, and qualification for same-day voter registration. The bill would also protect felons who may have voted in the 2022 election but would be ineligible to do so following the North Carolina Supreme Court’s decision in Community Success Initiative v. Moore to uphold the law requiring them to complete their full sentences (including probation or parole) before they can register to vote.
Impacts on mail-in voting
Mail-in ballot deadline changes
SB 747 would move the deadline for election boards to receive mail ballots from three days after election day to election day proper. For a voter’s mail-in ballot to count, the ballot must be received by the board of elections by 7:30 p.m. on the day of the election. This change would not impact voters out of the country, nor would it affect military ballots, because the deadline for those groups is established by federal law.
North Carolina has one of the most lenient vote-by-mail practices in the United States, requiring no excuse for absentee voting and allowing sixty days of mail-in voting during primary and general elections. Sixty days is by far the longest amount of time for mail-in voting in any state. With such a generous amount of time between the time when voters receiving their absentee ballot and the day of the election, the impact of removing the three-day period after the election would be minimal.
Even when we include military and overseas ballots, the 2022 general election saw only 8,625 ballots received during the three days after election day. Those accounted for roughly 0.2% of all ballots during the general election. Even with the ability to have their vote counted up to three days after election day, 99.8% of North Carolina voters got their vote in by election day.
The impact of this change would likely be even less because the bill would require election boards to notify voters of the change. A voter could simply send a ballot in earlier or hand-deliver it to either a one-stop location during early voting or the county board of elections on election day.
Bill sponsors in committee intimated that the changes to mail-in ballot deadlines were a response to the State Board of Elections’ “sue and settle” actions with Democratic party lawyer Marc Elias. In the settlement with Elias, the board of elections expanded the number of days ballots could be accepted during the 2020 election. In addition, the state board of elections removed the requirement that a postmark needed to be affixed to a ballot on or before election day for it to count.
Thirty states currently require that mail-in ballots be received by election day. Establishing election day as the deadline for ballots to be received removes the gamesmanship of future boards of elections.
Most voters are likely familiar with two-factor authentication as a concept for cyber security. SB 747 would implement this system for mail-in voting. It does not outline the exact details of how this provision would be implemented by county boards of elections, but instead it would leave it up to the State Board of Elections to create a secondary verification system on mail-in ballots. How this change would impact voters would depend on how the SBE implemented two-factor authentication.
Same-day voter registration changes
North Carolina law currently allows voters to do same-day voter registration only during early voting. The person must provide either an approved photo ID, utility bill, bank statement, or check that shows his or her name and address. Voters who do not have any form of acceptable documentation when they try to vote at the one-stop location would have to cast a ballot that would be marked provision until their addresses could be verified.
SB 747 would change these same-day registration requirements to require the person to provide not only an approved photo ID, but also an additional document proving the person’s address. The kinds of documentation allowed would be the same as the ones currently accepted under state law. Student IDs would be accepted so long as they follow the approval process outlined by the State Board of Elections.
If unable to produce both required pieces of documentation, a voter would still be able to cast a provisional ballot. These provisional ballots could be cured and counted by providing the required documents to their local board of elections before the start of the county canvass, ten days after election day. So, the expected impact of these proposed changes would be minimal.
Protecting felons from the confusion caused by felon voting lawsuits
SB 747’s change to felon voting appears to be a direct response to the potential confusion created by the recent North Carolina Supreme Court decision in Community Success Initiative v. Moore concerning felons on probation or parole. Those felons were allowed to register and vote in the 2022 election under a lower court’s decision, which the Supreme Court overturned earlier this year, reversing the brief allowance for those serving probation or parole for a felony conviction to vote.
The change would protect felons who unknowingly break the law by illegally voting, exempting them from charges if they are unaware of the current law. It is a Class I felony for felons to vote in either a primary or general election until their rights are restored upon the conclusion of their full sentences.
How much would these changes impact voters?
While opponents to the election reform bill have attempted to frame it as a massive attack on access to the ballot, the reality of the bill is not so dramatic. The only change to the state’s same-day voter registration law is to require additional documentation alongside a voter’s photo ID. Voters already must show a photo ID in this year’s elections. Moving the mail ballot deadline may require some voters to send their mail-in ballots earlier, but voters still have 60 days to send in those ballots, a longer time allowed than by any other state.
While this bill would impact voters in some minor ways, it focuses on electioneering groups and the board of elections far more.