RALEIGH, N.C. (WGHP) – A bill filed Thursday in the North Carolina House – with backing from a handful of Republicans from the Piedmont Triad – seeks to create a constitutional amendment to limit the number of days North Carolinians can vote early and in-person.

House Bill 123 says that the amendment would ask voters to limit that voting to “seven consecutive days” in advance of an election. The bill calls for the amendment to be on the ballot for the General Election in 2024 in hopes it would take effect by 2026.

Early voters in Durham form a long line in October 2020. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

North Carolina law specifies that in-person voting will begin no earlier than the third Thursday before Election Day and run through the Saturday before Election Day. The early in-person voting period for the 2022 General Election extended from Oct. 20 to 3 p.m. on Nov. 5. These included voting on all weekdays and some weekends, at the discretion of local boards of elections.

Of the nearly 3.8 million votes cast in the 2022 General Election, more than 2 million (or 53%) were cast during one-stop early voting. That was 27% more than the nearly 1.6 million who voted on Nov. 8.

There also were more than 187,746 mail-in ballots and 10,258 provisional ballots. House Bill 123 did not mention making changes in the portion of state law that addresses the windows for voting by mail.

There are various reasons cited by some members of the House who signed on to support HB 123 on why this bill was introduced. A legal assistant for its primary sponsor, Rep. Harry Warren (R-Rowan), sent an email in response to a query from WGHP that he does not do interviews with media outside his district and that “your questions will be answered as you continue to follow the bill.”

State Rep. Kyle Hall (R-King) (NCGA)

The other primary sponsor, Rep. Joe Pike (R-Harnett), did not respond to a similar email. Among its 18 cosponsors are four representatives from the Triad: Jon Hardister (R-Whitsett), Dennis Riddell (R-Snow Camp), Reece Pyrtle (R-Stoneville) and Kyle Hall (R-King).

“Each election cycle, those working both inside and outside the polls have voiced concerns with the length of the early voting period to me,” Hall wrote in an email to WGHP. “I agree that early voting is necessary and allows working individuals, servicemen and women, and students the opportunity to vote outside of Election Day.

“I think seven days of early voting and Election Day allows sufficient time for voters to exercise their right, and I believe the voters of North Carolina will agree if the question is posed to them on their ballot.” 

Co-sponsor Ben Moss, the representative from Moore and Richmond County who is an announced candidate in the 2024 race for Labor Commissioner – as is Hardister – said that “many have stated that the number of early voting days should be shortened.” He did not respond to a follow-up seeking more clarity about who “many” represents and what the reasoning was.

North Carolina Democratic Party Chair Anderson Clayton (NCDP)

Anderson Clayton, the newly elected chair of the NC Democratic Party, said she is familiar with the bill and thinks it would be “restricting people’s right to vote. North Carolina has been a pioneer in early voting, especially across the country.

“People can’t necessarily get to the polls on Election Day. … I think we’ve got to make sure we are protecting early voting in every capacity and actually expanding voting rather than making it harder for people to do that,” Clayton said.

Why do this?

Rep. Jon Hardister (R-Whitset)

Hardister, who is the House majority whip and has served since 2012, cited saving money and reducing “the burden on the state and local boards of elections.” He also said the 7-day window would put North Carolina “in line with most other states in terms of early voting duration.

“I also think that would be a more logical approach if voting starts closer to Election Day, as information on candidates is still being disseminated. Our voting process, in my view, should revolve around Election Day, not ‘election month,’ which is almost how it functions now.”

Of the 44 states that allow early in-person voting – some of the other six let counties decide – the process starts on an average of about 21.3 days before Election Day, based on data collected by Vote.org.

Maryland limits voting to roughly seven consecutive days before Election Day. Kentucky, which recently added early in-person voting, limits that to roughly two days. Oklahoma offers three or four days, depending on the election. The other 41 states offer early voting 10 days or more before Election Day.

Surrounding North Carolina, West Virginia opens early voting 13 days before Election Day, and South Carolina does at 15. Tennessee is at 20, Georgia at about 28, and Virginia’s voting starts 45 days early.

Election officials respond

Elections officials in districts represented by Hardister and Pyrtle – in Guilford and Rockingham counties – said they had not been consulted about the bill and why this change might be necessary.

“I have not had any conversations with anybody,” Guilford County Elections Director Charlie Collicutt said via email. “I saw it for the first time poking around at filed legislation on the NC Legislature’s website.”

Said Paula Seamster, his counterpart in Rockingham County: “I can honestly say that this is the first time I have heard about this being presented as a House Bill.”  

Patrick Gannon, the spokesperson for the North Carolina Board of Elections, said state officials are aware of the bill.

“Yes, we are aware of HB123,” Gannon wrote in response to a query from WGHP. “This legislation was not requested by the State Board of Elections.

“As with every piece of proposed legislation, we will work with legislators to answer any questions and provide information on how this change would affect election administration.”

How the amendment process works

To create a constitutional amendment in North Carolina, a bill must pass both the state House and Senate by a three-fifths vote, or 30 of 50 in the Senate and 72 of 140 in the House. Republicans currently have a supermajority in the Senate (30) and are one vote short in the House (71).

After that law is established, its language for the ballot is reviewed by the Constitutional Amendments Publication Commission, and then the measure is placed on the ballot for voters across the state. You may recall that voter ID and three other measures were approved in 2018.

The state Supreme Court in December struck down voter ID because it agreed with a lower court that the law that created the amendment was “passed with discriminatory intent.” But that decision is being reviewed by the newly seated court.

What’s next?

House Bill 123 had its first reading Thursday and has been referred to the House Committee on Election Law and Campaign Finance. If approved by that committee, the bill would move to Judiciary and then possibly to Rules, Operations and Calendar.

The House is adjourned until Monday at 4 p.m., and committee meetings resume on Tuesday. But the Election Law committee has no meeting listed on the published calendar.

Rep. Pricey Harrison (D-Greensboro), a member of that committee, did not respond immediately to an email seeking comment.