RALEIGH, N.C. (WGHP) – It’s about nine months before voters in North Carolina will cast their first ballots in the 2024 elections, and the folks in the General Assembly are planning to change how you might do that.

Senate Republicans have introduced a bill – Senate Bill 747, the so-called “Election Law Changes” – that would make 16 pages and 22 provisions of alterations in state voting laws, a plan that is controversial as much for how it was conceived as for what it would provide.

The Republicans’ bill, which would presume to make the elections more “secure” for all political parties, even though it does not address an issue that some of their Democratic colleagues think important: elected candidates who then switch parties.

First things first, if you are wondering how any bill was filed for consideration after the so-called “Crossover Day,” which was nearly three weeks ago, state statute allows for consideration of bills “addressing election law.”

The GOP’s plan for elections first was revealed last week by WRAL and passed its first reading on Monday, when it was assigned to the Rules Committee to set its course.

The bill would propose new restrictions for mail-in voting, ban counties from receiving grants to help pay for elections – a sore point given the requirements of the new voter ID mandate and other costs associated with this bill – alter the rules for same-day voter registration to make those ballots provisional (which means they might not be counted) and makes it easier for a person to accuse someone of voter fraud and to remove people from voting roles if they have “claimed they aren’t a citizen to get out of jury duty.”

The bill also has a requirement that local elections boards employ signature verification software for absentee ballots and to have two signatures for verification on mail-in ballots, which is an element that would add to local costs.

State Sen. Ralph Hise (R-Alleghany)

Sen. Ralph Hise (R-Alleghany), chair of the Redistricting and Elections Committee, said in a statement that “we cannot afford to do nothing in the face of low voter confidence.”

There have been few verified complaints about voter fraud nationally. In North Carolina, complaints of voter fraud allegations have been filed, but very few have been proven. The Brennan Center’s national study of voter fraud showed incident rates “between 0.0003 percent and 0.0025 percent.”

Democrats suggest that SB 747 is a way to suppress votes and more negatively affect their party. Sen. Natasha Marcus (D-Mecklenburg) called it the “jumbo jet of voter suppression bill.”

Bob Phillips, executive director of Common Cause North Carolina, a voting rights advocacy group. (WGHP)

“We have the best voting laws we’ve ever had in North Carolina,” Bob Phillips, executive director of Common Cause North Carolina, a voting rights advocacy group, said in a press briefing about the bill. “There is no evidence of systemic and widespread fraud.

“We have a 3-day grace period for mail-in ballots. In 2009 every legislator voted for it, including Senator Phil Berger and representative [current House Speaker] Tim Moore.”

Said Senate Democratic leader Dan Blue (D-Wake): “Republican lawmakers want to safeguard their power, not our votes. Trump advisers have said publicly they want to suppress minority and Gen Z votes — and that’s who Republicans are listening to. We need commonsense rules to protect our democracy from those that have lost sight of the importance of a fair and free election.”

Election denier’s input

Cleta Mitchell, an election denier who helped former President Donald Trump and now is trying to affect changes in voting laws, lives in North Carolina. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

And therein lies the broader complaint from Democrats: That Republicans consulted with attorney Cleta Mitchell, one of those who advised former President Donald Trump in his efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election he lost to President Joe Biden.

State Sen. Michael Garrett (D-Greensboro) referred to Mitchell as “Trump’s attorney from the ‘just-find-me-the-votes phone call’” to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.

Mitchell now lives in North Carolina and heads a group called the Election Integrity Network. She is known for her plans to curtail voting on college campuses.

WRAL reported that Mitchell met with lawmakers and that language in the Senate’s bill mirrors some of the proposals from her organization.

Senate Leader Berger (R-Rockingham) told WRAL: “I understand that she and other people have said some things that folks are concerned about. I can assure you that she has not had any role in the drafting of the legislation.”

But WRAL reported that it had obtained documents that revealed that Mitchell had in fact been to the legislature and met with lawmakers. The station outlined comparisons between language drafted by Mitchell’s organization and the bill Senators have drafted.

“Not a single word of draft legislation produced by [Mitchell’s group] was used in Senate Bill 747,” Randy Brechbiel, a Berger spokesperson, told WRAL. “The legislation is a product of the bill sponsors based on their ideas for strengthening elections integrity and instilling voter confidence in our system.”

Ann Webb, policy director for Common Cause, said that the Senate’s “latest anti-voter proposal pulls full sections … word for word” from Mitchell’s documents.

About the House

Whether or not that’s the case does not necessarily affect changes in election law that the House might also suggest for consideration, and Mitchell is said to have input there as well.

State Rep. Pricey Harrison (D-Greensboro)

State Rep. Pricey Harrison (D-Greensboro), who is a member of the House Elections and Redistricting Committee, said that the House has a few bills that she felt had been incorporated into the Senate’s bill through “conferencing between the two chambers. Obviously, Cleta Mitchell has had a heavy hand in its contents.”

Harrison admitted that being in the minority she is “rarely in the loop,” but she did say the Senate’s bill is “a terrible bill.”

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State Rep. Jon Hardister (R-Guilford), the House majority whip, said he expected to know more about the House’s plans later this week, and Garrett, a member of the Senate Redistricting and Elections Committee, said there was no calendar date set to consider SB 747. His committee has no standing meeting schedule. “It could be anytime,” he said.

Sailor Jones, deputy director of Common Cause NC said that Mitchell and her group had “celebrated the bill” and had also been asked to make presentations to the North Carolina Bar Association.

“Even worse voting restrictions may be expected on the House side,” Jones said, “especially given that some of their earlier proposals were taken word for word from the [Mitchell’s] playbook.”