RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — State Democrats on Monday blasted a bill Republicans are aiming to pass soon that would make a variety of changes to the state’s election laws ahead of the 2024 election.
The bill filed late last week touches on a wide range of issues affecting elections, including mail-in voting and same-day voter registration.
“Senate Bill 747, or as I like to call it, the jumbo jet of voter suppression bill,” said Sen. Natasha Marcus (D-Mecklenburg).
Republicans say the bill would address concerns about elections, attempting to make some changes they have previously tried to enact but were vetoed by Gov. Roy Cooper (D). The GOP now has a veto-proof supermajority in the legislature.
Some of the key provisions include: making Election Day the deadline for mail-in ballots and eliminating the three-day grace period that’s currently in place; requiring people who register and vote on the same day during the early voting period to vote using provisional ballots; and prohibiting the use of private grant money to help run elections.
“So, I think those are the kinds of things we’re looking to clear up. And, our hope is that this will restore some confidence in many citizens, in their voting process,” said Sen. Ralph Hise (R-Mitchell).
Republicans say the change in the mail-in ballot deadline would help to learn the results of races sooner, an issue that was highlighted in 2020 when there was a nine-day grace period after Election Day for those ballots to arrive at local election offices. Democrats counter that very tight races still wouldn’t be called until the canvas that occurs after the election and the move could lead to ballots not counting that otherwise would.
“And what would these Republican legislators force election workers to do with that ballot if it arrives the day after Election Day? Throw it in the trash,” said Marcus.
Republicans point out that 30 states have set Election Day as the deadline for mail-in ballots. The General Assembly put the grace period in place in 2009 with bipartisan support.
The issue gained significant attention as former President Donald Trump sought to cast doubt on the legitimacy of mail-in voting and made a variety of unsubstantiated claims about fraud after losing the 2020 election.
“It’s like we’re being gaslighted as to the reasons for this kind of legislation,” said Sen. Dan Blue (D-Wake). “We see them continue to peddle the biggest threat to election integrity: the big lie.”
Democrats pointed to the involvement of Cleta Mitchell as the bill was being drafted. Mitchell is an attorney who is known for having been on the call with Trump when he contacted election officials in Georgia asking them to “find” votes for him.
Mitchell leads the Election Integrity Network, which advocates for a variety of changes to election laws.
Republicans in the legislature acknowledged meeting with her but said she did not write the bill. She did not respond to a request for comment Monday.
“I understand that she and other people have said some things that folks have concerns about. I can tell you that she has not had any role in the drafting of the legislation,” said Senate leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham).
Jim Womack, a former Lee County commissioner who has worked with Mitchell on election issues, said they had hoped to see other provisions in the bill that were not included.
Among them, he wants the state to reduce the early voting period from the current 17 days down to seven or eight days, he said.
“It’s a classic waste of resources and time for people to sit around twiddling their thumbs waiting for people to vote,” he said.
The bill does not change the duration of the early voting period.
“We’re hearing a lot more from complaints from boards of elections with being able to staff them for 17 days prior to the elections. But, I don’t think there’s anything that would survive a challenge before the election that would reduce the days of early voting,” said Sen. Hise (R-Mitchell).
Womack said he supports what ultimately did make it into the bill.
“There were a number of provisions that we had hoped to see in the bill, but we were advocating for some loophole closures in the election laws. But, we recognize the enemy of good enough is perfect,” he said. “There is a broad public perception that the elections and election results cannot be trusted.”
The Senate could vote on the bill this week. House Republicans are also working on an election bill as well.
Democratic attorney Marc Elias tweeted last week, “If North Carolina Republicans enact a voter suppression law, they will be sued and they will lose (again).”