By Jeff Moore
Carolina Journal News Service
RALEIGH — Three bills comprising the thrust of legislative election integrity efforts advanced through the N.C. Senate Committee on Redistricting and Elections on Wednesday, June 9. Senate Bills 326, 725, and 724 were each approved by voice vote and referred out of committee.
The first bill presented, Senate Bill 724, is an act to expand absentee voting access through portals for the visually impaired, allow online voter registration submissions via the State Board of Elections, and establish a program to distribute free ID cards to people unable or uninterested in leaving their home to get one.
Presenting the bill, Sen. Paul Newton, R-Cabarrus, said the legislation is aimed at increasing access to participate in safe and secure elections.
Senate Bill 725, presented by Sen. Ralph Hise, R-Madison, prohibits the private funding of elections administration in light of left-leaning organizations funded by billionaire Mark Zuckerberg donating millions to select North Carolina counties election entities.
Andy Jackson, director of the Civitas Center for Public Integrity, spoke during the public comment period, pointing to data showing the strategic deployment of outside private funding of local election apparatuses had a partisan effect on North Carolina races.
“S.B. 725 would remove private “Zuck bucks” from funding election administration. We found that money Mark Zuckerberg funneled through the Center for Tech and Civic Live disproportionately went to counties that supported Democrats. Election administration is one area I think most people agree should not be privatized,” Jackson told CJ in an interview.
The bill was approved and referred to the Rules committee.
Drawing the most fire in terms of partisan politics was the advancement of Senate Bill 326, The Election Integrity Act, which makes close of business on election day the deadline for accepting absentee ballots.
Bill sponsor and committee chair Sen. Warren Daniel, R-Avery, argued that the protracted period of acceptance, which he described as brought about by a ‘collusive settlement’ of a partisan lawsuit under the pretense of pandemic caution, needlessly fuel suspicion while trust and confidence in elections are at historic lows.
Democrat committee members reiterated objections to the election day deadline, arguing such a hard cut off date will disenfranchise voters because of delays in mail delivery. The sentiments were echoed by left-leaning Common Cause N.C. executive director Bob Phillips. In a statement, Phillips said that the legislation “would merely hurt North Carolina voters, especially those in rural communities,” who may have votes invalidated due to delays by the post office.
In response to the mail delivery concerns, Daniels said there are multiple ways to submit absentee ballots, and weeks of lead time from the issuance of absentee ballots and the election day deadline.
Jackson noted in public comment that nearly a thousand absentee ballots were rejected for missing the deadline, even under the extraordinary expansion to a nine-day window of acceptance during 2020 elections. Interestingly, he also drew attention to the practical elimination of the arduous task of depending on notoriously confusing post marks.
“S.B. 326 moves North Carolina back to the standard we had until a decade ago; that all voters are responsible for getting their ballots submitted to election officials by election day,” says Jackson. “It will end county boards of elections dependence on postmarks, which are often absent or illegible, and eliminate confusion we often have about whether an absentee ballot has been legally voted.”
The three bills advance for additional committee consideration before returning to the floor for votes.