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NC House Republicans advance bill to restrict mail-in voting

20230409_Le_city-mail-in-voting-hb-304

DTH Photo Illustration. Absentee ballots can either be mailed back to the State Board of Elections or dropped off at respective county board of elections sites.

On April 4, the N.C. House Committee on Election Law and Campaign Finance Reform advanced N.C. House Bill 304. Under the bill, mail-in ballots that arrive in the three-day period after Election Day would no longer be counted. 

H.B. 304, the "Election Day Integrity Act," would also require voters to mail or deliver their absentee ballot in person to the county board of elections office, prohibiting the use of one-stop voting sites for ballot drop-offs.

N.C. Reps. Ted Davis Jr. (R-New Hanover), Harry Warren (R-Rowan), George Cleveland (R-Onslow) and Chris Humphrey (R-Greene, Jones, Lenoir) proposed the bill.

A similar bill passed bicamerally in 2021, but fell to Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper's veto. At the time, Cooper said the bill would cause some votes to go uncounted.

If this bill passes the N.C. General Assembly now, though, the new Republican supermajority may be able to overturn a potential veto from Cooper.

Carol Moreno, the policy and programs manager at Democracy North Carolina, said the nonpartisan organization views H.B. 304 as an attack on voting by mail.

Moreno said the three-day grace period, which has been in effect since 2009, has ensured that absentee ballots caught up by delays in the United States Postal Service are still counted.

“Now we’re making a very striking change, and it would require a substantial education process for voters to become aware of it,” N.C. Rep. Joe John (D-Wake) said. 

Ann Webb, the policy director at Common Cause North Carolina, said the bill would suppress turnout from voters who rely on mail-in voting, such as those who are homebound, have a disability, have an inflexible job schedule or live far away from their county board of elections offices.

“This is one of numerous proposals to roll back voter-friendly policies in North Carolina,” she said.

Andy Jackson is the director of the Civitas Center for Public Integrity at the John Locke Foundation, a conservative think tank. He said H.B. 304 would help prevent inconsistencies in ballot counting.

“It’s not an undue burden to expect people to be able to get their ballots in by Election Day,” he said.

Jackson also said he hasn’t seen significant evidence of votes being miscounted to favor or disfavor candidates, but said he believes there are problems with election security in North Carolina. 

According to North Carolina state law, county boards of elections are required to canvass votes, which involves verifying that votes have been counted and tabulated correctly and authenticating election results. The process takes place 10 days after Election Day.

N.C. Rep. Allen Buansi (D-Orange) said that during the committee hearing, proponents of the bill claimed H.B. 304 would allow election results to be finalized on the evening of Election Day. 

“Election results are not finalized on Election Day. They are finalized 10 days after Election Day,” he said. “So, again, the question remains: What is driving this?”

Cassandra Stokes, the democracy and economy coordinator for the North Carolina Black Alliance, said H.B. 304 would disproportionately affect Black voters and young voters.

“They want the general public to assume that this is just a way to undermine Black voters, but in reality, that is not the case,” Marcus Bass, the deputy director for the N.C. Black Alliance, said. “This bill is harmful to every single voter.”

He said that any time one person is denied representation or access to voting, the entire system is undermined.

H.B. 304 was re-referred to the N.C. House Committee on Rules, Calendar and Operations of the House, where a date for a floor vote may be scheduled in the near future. 

@DTHCityState | city@dailytarheel.com

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