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Wide-ranging elections bill advancing in legislature

The Associated Press//August 17, 2023//

Wide-ranging elections bill advancing in legislature

The Associated Press//August 17, 2023//

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RALEIGH — Republican state legislators on Tuesday again took up a wide-ranging North Carolina voting bill that would move up the deadline by which absentee ballots must be received to be counted, bar private funds to administer elections and retool rules for poll observers parties pick for voting places.

The House elections committee approved a retooled version of a Senate bill that was passed by that chamber in June. It had been set aside for weeks as lawmakers stayed away from Raleigh during the ongoing state budget standoff. The General Assembly is returning this week to handle nonbudget matters.

Key Senate Republicans said Tuesday that chamber leaders had been kept abreast of changes and suggested the House version could receive final legislative approval barring dramatic alterations.

“I think as it stands right now, we’re probably in agreement with it,” Sen. Warren Daniel, a Burke County Republican and chief sponsor of the original Senate bill, said after the committee vote.

But another Senate election bill approved in June that would shift appointment power of the State Board of Elections from Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper and future governors to General Assembly leaders has idled in the House. Senate leader Phil Berger said the two chambers disagree on some provisions related to proposed changes for county elections boards.

The omnibus bill heard Tuesday contains three sections that Cooper vetoed successfully in either 2019 or 2021. Now the GOP has narrow veto-proof majorities in both chambers that could lead to successful overrides.

Nearly all of the proposed changes would take place in early 2024, before the closely divided state will have primary and general elections for president, governor, Congress, the legislature and other state and local positions.

Republicans have said changes are needed to rebuild trust in election results and protect lawful voting. But Democrats have called them unnecessary, the result of the GOP and their allies exaggerating the incidence of voter fraud.

“This legislation is yet another example of Republican leadership making it harder for North Carolinians to vote,” House Minority Leader Robert Reives and Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue said in a news release after the committee. “These changes do not improve the integrity of our elections — if anything, they erode the trust of voters.”

One previously vetoed bill contained in the measure would end the state law that allows traditional absentee ballots received by mail up to three days after the election to be counted if postmarked by the election date.

Instead, such ballots will have to be turned in to county election offices by the time in-person balloting ends at 7:30 p.m. on the date of the election or they won’t count. Currently about 30 states require absentee ballots to arrive on or before the election date, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

A second vetoed provision bars election boards and county officials from accepting private money to administer elections. And the other previously vetoed item directs state courts to send information to election officials about potential jurors being disqualified because they aren’t U.S. citizens for their eventual removal from voter rolls.

The House version replaced earlier Senate language designed to ensure people who cast votes at early voting sites where they’re also registering vote are qualified to cast ballots.

The new language says that a same-day registrant’s ballot won’t count if their mailed voter registration card is returned to county election officials as undeliverable by the day before a county’s final ballot count. Current law requires two undeliverable mailings for registration to be denied.

The bill also lays out how a party’s poll observers can conduct themselves and what they are prohibited from doing. Andy Jackson with the conservative John Locke Foundation told the committee that the poll observer changes and a host of other items are “going to help make our elections more secure.”

Democrats on the committee criticized many portions of the bill, some of which they say will lead to more expenses for state and county elections boards that are unfunded. Their proposed amendments were rejected in mostly party-line votes.

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