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RALEIGH, N.C. (WGHP) – You likely have seen or heard the disturbing testimony by two election workers during the Jan. 6 hearings about how they were harassed and threatened because of their roles during the 2020 presidential election in Georgia.

Shaye Moss and her mother, Ruby Freeman, described in raw emotion how they were threatened, hounded and abused by those who believe the lie that they helped steal the election from former President Donald Trump. Their words were awesome and perhaps inspiring.

Wandrea “Shaye” Moss, a former Georgia election worker, testifies as he mother, Ruby Freeman listens, as the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol continues to reveal its findings of a year-long investigation, at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, June 21, 2022. (Michael Reynolds/Pool Photo via AP)

A bill introduced in the North Carolina Senate – although not based on that testimony – would go a long way toward protecting election workers and the voting process against situations just like this, one of its sponsors suggests.

Senate Bill 916, called the Safeguard Fair Elections Act, was filed by state Sen. Jay Chaudhuri (D-Wake), the Senate Democratic whip, and Sen. Natalie S. Murdock (D-Durham) on Monday, but it has been in the works since the false claims of fraud by Trump and his acolytes brought new fears about the election process.

Sen. Jay Chaudhuri (D-Wake) (NCGA)

“The recent revelations from the January 6th hearings have given context to the issue, but this legislation has been in the works for almost a year and a half,” Chaudhuri wrote in response to questions from WGHP. “We did not plan the filing of this bill to coincide with Tuesday’s hearings, but what we heard on the threats our nation’s local, nonpartisan election workers continue to face emphasizes the urgency of this legislation.”

Moss worked to tabulate election results and help voters during the election in Georgia, but she became a target of lawyer Rudy Giuliani and Trump with baseless lies about her role. Because of that, she told the House Select Committee on Tuesday, she saw on her social media “a lot of horrible things,” many of them racist and “hateful. A lot of threats wishing death upon me, telling me I’ll be in jail with my mother and saying things like, ‘Be glad it’s 2020 and not 1920.’”

Chaudhuri also cited testimony by “the Republican Arizona Speaker of the House, the Republican Michigan Senate Majority Leader, and the Republican Georgia Secretary of State about intimidation and threats they’ve experienced. 

Sen. Natalie S. Murdock (D-Durham) (NCGA)

“This isn’t a Democrat or Republican issue; this is an issue about protecting the heart of our democracy – our neutral, nonpartisan elected officials.”

The unfolding conspiracy by Trump and others to sow doubt in how votes were counted, to spread false rumors about activities and machinery in voting precincts and to undermine the lawful process of vote counting – as described in testimony and documents gathered by the committee looking into the cause for the assault on the U.S. Capitol to disrupt the certification of that election Jan. 6, 2021 – has surfaced many concerns about future elections.

What’s in the bill

Senate Bill 916 would address some of those issues, but it also would serve to protect against external audits by certifying how audits of election results should occur, thus protecting the democratic process of voting and counting the results.

“First, the bill adds protections for voters from threats and intimidation, including criminal penalties,” Chaudhuri said.  “Second, the bill protects election officials from threats and intimidation, including criminal penalties. Specifically, this provision protects election officials’ private information from public records to prevent ‘doxing’ [which is publishing a person’s private information without permission].

“Finally, the bill prohibits third-party forensic audits and ensures all post-election audits comply with best practices to ensure transparency while preserving the integrity of our election infrastructure.”

External audits

You may recall that after multiple state-certified recounts, canvassing and audits were completed in Arizona, a third-party, privately funded audit was allowed by lawmakers who believed in the phony conspiracy theories being spread by Trump, Giuliani and others.

Maricopa County ballots cast in the 2020 general election are examined and recounted by contractors working for Florida-based company, Cyber Ninjas at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York, Pool, File)

That audit in Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix, confirmed that President Joe Biden carried Arizona and that the election was not “stolen” from Trump, as he repeatedly has said without merit.

The North Carolina Board of Elections audits every election to ensure there were no problems with equipment tampering, ballot stuffing or machine and counting errors. The BOE lists six steps that it goes through to ensure accuracy. This is all done after officially canvassing in each county to confirm results after the count has concluded.

In 2020 it took several days after the election on Nov. 3 to complete the election count in North Carolina because of mail-in ballots, but Trump carried the state by about 1.35%, less than half his margin over Hillary Clinton in 2016. There were no disputes about those results.

By contrast, the BOE took about a month to delicately confirm all votes before Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley conceded a loss to Republican Paul Newby by 401 votes (less than 1%).

Still, because of the continuing spread of unfounded conspiracies about that presidential election, there is more scrutiny on voting systems and processes. Many states have enacted tighter voting laws that some have suggested discriminate against voters.

Criminal penalties

The election process in each of North Carolina’s 100 counties and its thousands of polling places counts on volunteers. Each county needs workers for polling sites for advance and election-day voting and more to help process the official tabulation of results. Recruiting those volunteers can be difficult because mostly the workers are retirees.

The NC BOE also has extensive election security policies to deal with election fraud claims – there has been only a handful in the past several years that were substantiated – and the rules for election day and polling places.

SB 916 promises criminal prosecution of up to 5 years in prison and fines of $100,000 for “any person that intimidates, threatens, coerces … or attempts to intimidate, threaten, or coerce an election worker with intent to impede, intimidate, or interfere with the election worker’s official duties is liable in civil damages to the election worker for any injury or loss resulting from the intimidation, threats, or coercion.”

Will it be heard?

Whether this bill will get traction in the Republican-controlled General Assembly remains to be seen. With the “short session” underway and the budget and other weighty matters, such as Medicaid expansion, sports gambling, medical marijuana and the Farm Bill, to consider, the calendar is clogged.

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“We have not heard from leadership since filing the bill on Monday,” Chaudhuri said. “I encourage my colleagues across the aisle to take up this legislation and give voters and election officials – the real people and unsung heroes of our democracy – the chance to speak to their experiences as they relate to these very real threats.”

A spokesperson for Senate Leader Phil Berger (R-Eden) did not respond to a request for comment from him or from the Republican caucus in general about the merits of the bill and the possibility of its moving forward.

But Sen. Michael Garrett (D-Greensboro) said he doubts it will “get a fair hearing in the NC Senate, although in light of the evidence coming out of the January 6th hearings it’s clearly needed.”