- North Carolina’s election reform bill, Senate Bill 747, would require the state and county boards of elections to provide more information on elections and increase the frequency of list maintenance
- The bill also would require the State Board of Elections to inform voters about voter ID requirements and other modifications to election law that would impact voters directly
- It would put the investigation of election fraud under the direct jurisdiction of the State Bureau of Investigation
I’ve written previously on the impacts Senate Bill 747 would have on individuals and electioneering groups. The ratified version of the bill, which Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed and is pending votes to override, added some minor modifications. The changes also include incorporating parts of House Bill 772, a bill that would codify the exact role of election observers and directly outline what an observer does and does not have the authority to do. Despite the various additions and modifications to the bill, most changes focus on the state and county boards of elections. These changes can be broken down into three categories: changes to the reporting of data, notifications to voters, and policy changes.
While other provisions of the bill would impact the board of elections, these provisions would impact only the boards of elections and other governmental agencies. They would have little to no effect on the public or electioneering groups.
Changes to the Reporting of Data
Of the changes that SB 747 would make to election law that would impact the administration of elections, most of the policy changes revolve around reporting and preserving election data. The bulk of the bill’s page count comes from separating one-stop voting from mail-in absentee voting. While these two voting practices are reported separately on the North Carolina State Board of Elections election results page, under current North Carolina law they are considered both as part of absentee voting. By separating these two practices for voting, North Carolinians would no longer have to fill out an absentee ballot form when using early voting sites. (Current law refers to them as one-stop early voting locations).
Additional changes to the State Board of Elections (SBE) would be as follows:
- The SBE would have to ensure that ballots, election results tapes, executed ballot applications, contested ballots, and container return envelopes are retained for 22 months following the corresponding election. Federal law already requires these forms to be preserved for 22 months following a federal election. The responsibility for storing election documentation would still fall to county boards.
- For municipalities split between two or more counties, the SBE would combine and submit a composite data set of election results for municipal elections.
- Any modifications to a voter’s “voter history record” other than routine updates would be required to be submitted annually to the Joint Legislative Oversite Committee on Elections, alongside a rationale for the revision.
- The governor would be allowed to submit presidential election results to the U.S. Archivist via “the most expeditious method available” instead of submitting it through the mail, and the date of the reading of North Carolina’s vote for president and vice president would be moved to the Tuesday following the second Wednesday in December.
- List maintenance for deceased and felon voting records would be required to be done weekly instead of the current monthly.
- List maintenance for noncitizens created by the Administrative Office of the Courts would be required to be conducted semiannually. Voters would have 30 days’ written notice to contest removal from the voter rolls.
The changes in how county boards of elections manage their election data would be as follows:
- County boards of elections would be required to report early voting and mail-in absentee voting separately to the SBE.
- County boards of elections would have to report to the SBE how many absentee ballots were sent out and how many have been spoiled during each day of early voting.
- County boards of election would be required to denote the voter, the method voted, and the type of ID submitted by every voter.
Informing the Public
Senate Bill 747 would stipulate several requirements for the SBE to inform voters of changes going into effect in for the 2024 election cycle. They would include changes made in the bill and the implementation of voter ID, which will be used during the 2024 election.
Under the elections bill, the SBE and county boards would have to publish on their website and in any mail to voters the date absentee ballots must be submitted. This information, along with how a voter may submit an absentee ballot, would also have to be included in the absentee ballot return sheet.
It would also allows county boards of elections to begin reaching voters also via email and phone regarding curable deficiencies with their ballots. Curable deficiencies include matters such as voters failing to sign the voter certification, voters signing in the wrong location on their ballot applications, and witnesses failing to print their names on the absentee ballots. It would allow issues arising from a lack of photo ID to be cured by submitting an accepted ID to the county board via email.
Senate Bill 747 would add a few significant changes to how government institutions interact with the State Board of Elections. The most talked-about is the proposed new requirement for the administrative office of the courts to compile a list of each person excused from jury duty and report to the SBE all of those who list the reason as not being a citizen of the United States.
The report would be conducted semiannually, and the information would be considered part of the public record. It would not change any requirements for voting as North Carolina already requires a person to be a U.S. citizen before being allowed to register to vote. A person who was dismissed from jury duty due to citing noncitizenship status but who is listed on the voter rolls would be given 30 days’ written notice and allowed to contest the case before being removed from the state’s list of registered voters.
Another significant change would be the requirement for the State Bureau of Investigation (SBI) to investigate all cases arising from election fraud. Under current law, a board of elections’ investigations of potential violations of election law are moved to the local prosecutor or attorney general’s office. The proposed change would require them instead to report violations directly to the SBI. Both the SBE and county boards of elections must cooperate with such investigations and provide any information requested by the SBI.
While these proposed policy changes have garnered most of the media’s attention, Senate Bill 747 would make some additional policy changes for the conduct of elections. They include:
- Requiring that the composition of early voting precinct judges be the same as on election day. This change would ensure bipartisan representation of election officials at early voting sites.
- Requiring that, if an appeal is made by the SBE on a case regarding election law, the appeal shall be brought before the superior court of the county in which the challenge originated.
- Placing the maintenance of voter registration lists for deceased and felon voting under the purview of the SBE’s executive director rather than the board itself.
- Requiring county boards that utilize paper ballots for early voting to begin counting election results manually alongside mail-in ballots — and stipulating that electronic ballots shall be counted once polls are closed.
- Adding special district elections and nonpartisan board of education elections as exceptions to candidate requirements for declaration of intent and petition for write-in candidates.
- Clarifying that the failure to include a printed witness name will not invalidate the absentee ballot so long as the identity of the individual can be ascertained by the witness’s signature.
- Defining physically handing in a ballot and clarifying that drop boxes shall not be used for election purposes.
- Allowing retired law enforcement officers to work early voting without jeopardizing their retirement pay. Under current law, they can work only on election day without suspending their retirement benefits.
- Making data on voters who participate in early voting a part of the public record.
- Creating a study committee to investigate the feasibility of replacing the current statewide voter registration system.
- Creating a pilot program for signature verification during the 2024 primary election to be conducted by ten counties.
Senate Bill 747 would add many election policy changes to ensure greater security in North Carolina elections. Legislators have been vocal that many of these reforms stem from the myriad of issues caused by the SBE over the past few years. In 2020, the SBE subverted state law by utilizing emergency authority, sending guidance to county election boards that effectively nullified state law, and agreeing to a collusive sue-and-settle plan with the Marc Elias law firm that altered state elections law.
Gov. Cooper vetoed SB 747 on August 24. The legislature is expected to override Cooper’s veto in the coming weeks.