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Senate Bills 747 and 749 to impact future elections in N.C., if passed

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DTH Photo Illustration. Two bills currently in the N.C. General Assembly have the potential to significantly impact voting processes in North Carolina.

Two bills currently in the N.C. General Assembly — Senate Bills 747 and 749 — have the potential to have major impacts on voting processes in North Carolina this fall and beyond. 

S.B. 747 — titled Election Law Changes — contains over 20 provisions that propose specific changes to the election processes for voters.

One of these provisions would eliminate the current three-day grace period for absentee mail-in ballots. This grace period currently allows absentee ballots postmarked and sent by Election Day to be counted as long as they arrive at each county’s board of elections within the three days following the election.

N.C. Rep. Allen Buansi (D-Orange) said the elimination of this grace period could have major effects on voters who have been using mail-in ballots for many years.

“If someone mails the ballot by Election Day, or even a few days earlier than Election Day, and their ballot gets there one day after Election Day, even if it's been correctly filled out, it won’t count,” Buansi said. “This is a big change and unfortunately there hasn’t been any money allocated in this bill to inform voters of the change.”

Ann Webb, the policy director of Common Cause North Carolina, said this provision, if passed, could cause valid absentee ballots — many of which are cast by students and younger voters — to be thrown out.

“Thousands of ballots will be thrown in the trash, even though they are valid ballots and were mailed by Election Day,” she said. 

Another provision proposed in S.B. 747 would affect same-day voter registration during the early voting period.

Right now, North Carolinians can visit an early voting location and both register to vote and cast a normal ballot. If this bill passes, voters who register to vote at an early voting site must cast a provisional ballot if they do not provide both a valid photo ID and a secondary proof of address.

Ben Neill, a development intern with Democracy North Carolina, said this could be problematic because of the low percentage of provisional ballots that are typically accepted. The bill would require the person casting a provisional ballot to return to their county board of elections and show a valid photo ID and secondary proof of address for the ballot to count.

“Provisional ballots are accepted at much lower levels, only about 40 percent were accepted in some of our last elections and that will particularly affect young, student voters,” he said. 

S.B. 749 — titled No Partisan Advantage in Elections — proposes changes to the makeup of both the county and state boards of elections. 

Currently,  the N.C. State Board of Elections appoints four members to each county’s board of elections — two Democrats and two Republicans, with one member appointed by the governor — usually of their own party — who serves as the county's Board of Elections Chair.

S.B. 749 proposes changing the total number of individuals on each county’s Board of Elections to four, with just two Democrats and two Republicans.

The State Board of Elections is currently made up of five individuals appointed by the governor from candidate lists made by state party leaders. S.B. 749 proposes increasing the number of individuals on the board to eight, all of which are appointed by legislative leaders.

N.C. Rep. Renée Price (D-Orange, Caswell) said the change from an odd number to an even number of individuals on these boards could lead to deadlock.

She said the restrictions that both bills propose move the state backward in voting accessibility and will pose challenges, especially to those in the working class.

"We worked hard to expand opportunities to vote," Price said. "This would restrict times and the opportunities to vote. All of this is going to affect the working class — people that lack the luxury of being able to pick and chose when they can go to the polling site and jump through all these hoops."

Both of these bills, if passed, would bring great changes to the election system that Buansi said could hurt voters in the end.

“It's going to create barriers to voting, it's going to create confusion at the polls, it's going to create situations where voters get frustrated and they end up just not voting,” he said.

As of now, both bills have passed the N.C. Senate and are in an N.C. House committee. Webb said North Carolinians should call their representatives to urge them to vote against S.B. 747 and 749.

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@DTHCityState | city@dailytarheel.com 

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