North Carolina Democratic lawmakers said Monday that a Republican bill containing election and ballot changes that Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper previously vetoed, as well as new measures, would harm democracy and embrace unfounded election fraud allegations if enacted.
Democrats attempted to sound an alarm during a Legislative Building news conference about the proposal that Senate Republicans unveiled last week and that could be debated this week.
Monday’s speakers acknowledged it’ll likely take vocal opposition to the proposed changes by the public, or possibly judges, to halt or modify the measure, given that Republicans hold veto-proof majorities in both chambers following electoral gains last fall and a House Democrat’s party switch in April.
The new, omnibus bill in part would move up the deadline for an absentee ballot received by election officials to count and create new hurdles before people who register in an election's final days can get their votes tallied. The Republican bill's authors say the measure will boost the public's trust in voting outcomes and modernize the state's election system.
With North Carolina expected to again be a closely divided state during the 2024 election — with races for president and governor on the ballot — even small adjustments to election regulations could affect outcomes.
Three sections of the bill contain language that Cooper successfully blocked over the past four years because Democrats had enough seats then to uphold his vetoes.
“We will continue to talk to our colleagues. But at some point, what we’re hoping is by bringing attention to this that people in the public — Republicans or Democrats — will look and say, ‘You know, guys, this is getting to be a bit much,’” said House Minority Leader Robert Reives of Chatham County, adding later: “I would hope that our courts would take this seriously.”
One previously vetoed item contained in the bill would remove the state’s three-day grace period after an election for a traditional absentee ballot to arrive by mail for it to be counted. Instead, any such ballot submitted to a county board of elections office after 7:30 p.m. on the day of the election — which is when polls close statewide — wouldn't count.
“A lot of voters won’t know about the change, and they won’t know that their ballot’s been thrown out until it’s too late,” said Sen. Natasha Marcus, a Mecklenburg County Democrat.
Republicans again are trying to prohibit election boards and officials in counties from accepting private money to administer elections, a proposal that Cooper vetoed in 2021. And Cooper vetoed a measure — its content also in the new bill — that would tell 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 bill also would require anyone who completes same-day registration at an early in-person voting site to cast a provisional ballot, which can be more easily challenged after an election. The vote would be tabulated only if the voter’s address is verified through mail or if the person provides an identification document on the day of the election.
The measure would allow the public to inspect envelopes that contain absentee ballots at meetings of county elections boards where board members decide whether ballots received should be counted.
Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue of Wake County also criticized how an adviser to President Donald Trump during his fight to overturn the 2020 election attempted to influence the legislation’s content.
Cleta Mitchell, a lawyer who now lives in North Carolina, leads the Elections Integrity Network. A bill sponsor said last week he spoke to Mitchell about her concerns with election administration in the days before the bill was filed.
Republicans “continue to peddle the biggest threat to election integrity — ‘the big lie,’" Blue said, referencing Trump's label for the 2020 presidential election outcome. He called Mitchell's hand in the legislation “deeply troubling.”
The sponsor and Senate leader Phil Berger said Mitchell had no role in drafting the bill. Mitchell didn't immediately respond Monday to an email and text seeking comment, but told WRAL-TV last week that she didn’t personally write any of the bill.
Berger spokesperson Randy Brechbiel said in a written statement that “it would be in the best interest of all North Carolinians if Democrats stop pushing false, inflammatory rhetoric and instead join Republicans in strengthening the integrity of our elections."