GREENSBORO, N.C. (WGHP) – That double-sized version of Senate Bill 747’s voting changes that the North Carolina House distributed this past weekend is headed to the floor for approval.
The Senate had passed SB 747– with its companion SB 749 – along party-line votes on June 21, and the House Elections Law & Campaign Finance Committee on Tuesday afternoon spent two hours discussing it, rejecting about a dozen amendments and hearing from people who mostly wished the bill would go further.
The House Rules Committee this afternoon gave it a rubber stamp with almost no discussion. Now it’s up to Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) to place the bill on the calendar for a full vote. That could be added for a session at 4 p.m., which is scheduled to be the House’s first votes in nearly two months.
Already on the calendar are votes to override vetoes from Gov. Roy Cooper of House Bill 618, the “Charter School Review Board” bill, HB 488, “Code Council Reorg. and Var. Code Amend,” HB 219, the “Charter School Omnibus” bill and two bills that Cooper vetoed in late June – the controversial “Fairness in Women’s Sports Act” and “Gender Transition/Minors” bill.
The changes in the SB 747 as described in committee meetings are consistent with an earlier analysis of the document. The summary memo prepared by staff members was 13 pages to outline the 42 pages of the committee substitute, which is more than 50% longer than the 24 pages of the Senate’s original.
Should the House approve the newest version – and amendments likely will be considered on the floor and debate would be considerable – then it must return to the Senate for conference approval. If that were to happen, it would go to Cooper, who likely would veto it.
Most of the changes proposed in SB 747 would take effect on Jan. 1, but a few, such as criminal processes, would take hold on July 1.
This new bill does not include a change to the number of days for early in-person voting, which county boards can approve, but early voting would be separated in statutes from mail-in ballots to re-establish the rules for each, committee Chair Rep. Grey Mills (R-Iredell) said.
The meeting of the state’s electors for president and vice president will occur on the first Tuesday after the second Wednesday in December, which makes it consistent with recently changed federal law.
And this bill further pressures mail-in ballots, which were a big part of the Senate’s original bill. All mail-in ballots must be received by 7:30 p.m. on election day, regardless of postmark. No drop-off boxes are allowed during the early voting period There also are authentication issues and other identified deficiencies in absentee ballot validation that were discussed during the hearing.
Reducing the number of days for early in-person voting from the allowed from 17 was not included in the bill intentionally, Sen. Warren Daniel (R-Buncombe), an author, told the House committee.
“A lot of our members would have liked to have seen a reduction,” Daniel said after a question from Rep. Ted Davis (R-New Hanover), “but bill sponsors on both sides – in the Senate and the House – felt this was not something we wanted to include at this time.”
“We know that Republicans are trying to make it harder for people to vote,” NC Democratic Party Chair Anderson Clayton told WNCN-Ch. 17. “And that’s honestly the only thing I have to say about these bills, is that that is what they are going to do.
“And Democrats are going to work extremely hard to make sure that everyone has what they need in the form of an ID to vote this year.”
Lots of discussion
Rep. Pricey Harrison (D-Greensboro) was perhaps the most vocal member of the committee, offering two ill-fated amendments – while promising more during a floor hearing –questioning specific points and then serving as the only voice to debate the bill.
Harrison, who said she listens to county elections officials, said she thought that the state should continue to allow mailed absentee ballots to be accepted up to three days after election day as long as they were postmarked on time.
That has been the law since 2009, and in the 2020 presidential elections, there were about 12,000 ballots – more than 5,000 of them unaffiliated and others split nearly equally – that would be thrown and destroyed under this bill, Rep. Joe John (D-Wake) said in offering an amendment.
The mail-in issues
As was the case in the Senate, critics said that the unreliability of the postal service could be a factor in otherwise appropriate votes being discarded. The new law also would not allow drop boxes for mail-in ballots – as many states employ – and state that a ballot must be delivered by hand to a working at a polling place for early, in-person voting.
The only amendment that was adopted was offered by Mills, who clarified and corrected various aspects of the bill. All others were defeated on voice votes that didn’t always sound like a clear majority.
Davis also questioned that change from “provisional” to “retrievable” in describing ballots that could be cast but may not count. “What is that [“retrievable”] and why is it in the bill?” he asked.
Jessica Sammons, the legislative analyst who described changes in the bill and answered almost all the questions about it, explained that “retrievable” means the ballot will have a bar code or some identifying element to allow it to be located. She didn’t explain why “provisional” was removed.
Under a question about how a student living in a dorm with no traditional documentation to support his identification might be allowed to vote, Sammons said that a student with a school ID who can produce another document from the school to show the address would be appropriate.
Paying for changes
Committee Vice Chair Allison Dahle (D-Wake) mentioned that the General Assembly hasn’t yet adopted a budget – and won’t this month, House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) has said – and she questioned whether this bill pays for what it is requiring boards of election to do.
“I don’t know how we pass this bill without looking at money and funds to see if they are there to make sure we do this correctly,” Dahle said. “If we are worried about voter integrity and making sure about vote counting, we have to have a structure in place … have to have computers. I am concerned we are putting the cart before the horse as far as not knowing what the budgets are.”
Mills promised to work with her and the Appropriations Committee to ensure there is funding in the would-be budget to cover this. There have been complaints that the pilot program for two-signature verification and the software that requires is unfunded, too.
There were similar concerns about protecting the identities of individuals who may be removed from voter roles but also communicating with them about the fact that they were.
The bottom line
The half-dozen members of the public who commented mostly had vested interests in how the rules were drafted and enacted. The roles and allowances of the observers, who dominate so much of the bill, were mentioned. Some mentioned the parties’ abilities to close primaries to their own members.
“This bill looks like bipartisan legislation from a Republican supermajority,” John Kane said. He mentioned litigation about open primaries in Colorado, which appeared to favor Democrats. “This bill ensures that will happen.”
Harrison had the last word during the debate on the issue.
“I raised issues that I thought needed some amending,” she said. “I do listen to local elections officials … listen to advocates who have concerns.
“I think that this bill, bottom line, is going to make it more difficult for people to vote. It adds a huge administrative burden without adequate funding. I am concerned about the absentee voting issue. … It makes early voting harder. …. Signature verification is a huge problem. Whose signature matches what it was 20 years ago?”