Elections changes advance in Senate

Posted July 23, 2013

Early voting sticker

— After close to two hours of debate and discussion, during which lawmakers were roundly criticized by members of the public, a Senate committee passed a raft of elections reforms Tuesday.

House Bill 589 sat idle for three months since the House approved it before undergoing an extreme makeover in recent days to add changes to voter registration, early voting and campaign financing to the initial proposal requiring voters to present photo identification at the polls.

The Senate Rules Committee passed the bill on a hasty voice vote before members rushed off to a floor session that was delayed because the committee meeting ran long.

"This is voter suppression at its very worst," Allison Riggs, a voting rights attorney for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, told the committee. "It's a cynical ploy to make it harder for certain people to vote."

Sen. Bob Rucho, R-Mecklenburg, defended the various provisions in the bill by saying they would simplify what are often confusing regulations, promote consistency in elections operations statewide and increase people's confidence in the integrity of North Carolina elections.

"The honesty and integrity of the system is paramount," Rucho said.

Critics of the bill accused sponsors of a lack of integrity, both in the contents of the bill and the fact that Senate Republicans waited until the last week of the legislative session to roll it out and rush it through to passage.

Pink flamingos Groups cite Florida debacle as reason to keep NC early voting period

Senate committee debuts changes to election legislation Senate committee OKs changes to election legislation

"It's really sad you're trying to jam so many provisions in at the 11th hour," said Bob Hall, executive director of Democracy North Carolina. "You're building your legacy here."

"No one is being fooled," said Jamie Phillips, policy coordinator for the state NAACP. "This bill was crafted to make voting disproportionately harder for certain groups."

The legislation proposes to shorten the two-and-a-half week early voting period in general elections by a week, to prohibit counties from extending early voting hours on the Saturday before Election Day to accommodate crowds and to eliminate same-day voter registration during early voting.

Voting rights groups planted dozens of plastic pink flamingos in the lawn outside the Legislative Building Tuesday morning, warning lawmakers not to repeat Florida's mistake by reducing the early voting period.

Florida cut early voting from 14 to eight days in the 2012 election, which led to six-hour lines on the final day of early voting last fall. An estimated 200,000 Florida voters simply gave up and didn't vote, according to officials in that state.

A Florida elections official told House members in April that the impact of reducing early voting was "a nightmare" and that lawmakers in that state were looking to restore a 14-day early voting period there.

About 57 percent of the votes cast in last fall's election in North Carolina were done during early voting.

"We're here to say no," Justin Guillory, spokesman for the liberal group Progress NC, said during a morning news conference. "No to fewer early voting days. No to fewer voting sites. No to drastic changes that will keep people from participating in our democracy."

Rucho said cutting early voting would save county elections boards money and still provide them the flexibility to open as many sites as needed to meet their needs during the shorter early voting period.

"With these changes, everyone has equal access to voting," he said.

Sen. Josh Stein, D-Wake, said less early voting will push more people to voting on Election Day, clogging polling places and discouraging some from voting.

"It's our responsibility to make sure that voting is not a two-hour burden on people," said Sen. Martin Nesbitt, D-Buncombe.

Other provisions in the revamped bill include the following:

  • Eliminate pre-registration for 16- and 17-year-olds, who currently can register to vote before they turn 18.
  • Outlaw paid voter registration drives.
  • Eliminate straight-ticket voting.
  • Eliminate provisional voting if someone shows up at the wrong precinct.
  • Prohibit counties from extending poll hours by one hour on Election Day in extraordinary circumstances, such as in response to long lines.
  • Allow any registered voter of a county to challenge the eligibility of a voter rather than just a voter of the precinct in which the suspect voter is registered.
  • Move the presidential primary to first Tuesday after South Carolina's primary if that state holds its primary before March 15. That would mean North Carolina would have two primaries during presidential elections.
  • Study electronic filing for campaign returns.
  • Increase the maximum allowed campaign contribution per election from $4,000 to $5,000.
  • Loosen disclosure requirements in campaign ads paid for by independent committees.
  • Repeal the publicly funded election program for appellate court judges.
  • Repeal the requirement that candidates endorse ads run by their campaigns.

Stein peppered Rucho and legislative staffers with questions about various provisions, such as the reason to stop pre-registering teens when they get their driver's licenses to the reason to end straight-ticket voting.

Rucho explained that it's less confusing for people to wait until they turn 18 to register to vote and that requiring voters to make a selection for each race instead of voting a straight Democratic or Republican ticket would bring more attention to down-ballot races.

Public speakers scoffed at Rucho's argument that voter registration is too confusing for teens. A Millbrook High School teacher said he has registered 2,000 students without any problems over the years, and Allison Green of Durham said she routinely registers people to vote in her neighborhood.

"This bill harms our democracy by restricting participation in elections," Green said.


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  • JustOneGodLessThanU Jul 25, 2013

    Ok, so first the Republicans won 9 of the state’s 13 House seats by getting 48.7% of the votes compared to the Democrats getting 50.6% of the votes. This was possible with the Republican’s new gerrymandered districts.

    Nice job on cheating.

    Now...they want to restrict voting entirely with even more initiatives.

    IMO, this is completely anti-American...and against everything our country stands for. It is, however, something that I expect in Iran or Afghanistan.

  • Pulling for the Tarheels Jul 24, 2013

    Amazes me at all the comments. There use to be ONLY ONE DAY to vote; now there are a couple weeks, including weekends and people are still complaining that "voter suppression" is taking place. If you want to vote, you CAN AND WILL find time within the early voting schedule or on Election Day itself to vote...there are very few who work 7 days a week, or on Election Day prior to 6:30 am and work thru 7:30 pm making them unable to get to their polling place (truck drivers driving across country and doctors working 12-15 hr shift on Election Day would be 2 I can think of at the moment). Also, for everyone COMPLAINING, how many of you have actually worked on Election Day for a County Elections Board office (not a candidate or party). Just asking....

  • perseusomega9 Jul 24, 2013

    joesphlawrence43's equivocation and conspiracies notwithstanding, this is a bad bill

  • Danny22 Jul 24, 2013

    In my small rural county, a public official tried to vote twice. She was caught. It was reported in the local papers and then swept under the rug because she said "she forgot," and bc of her gov't position.

  • josephlawrence43 Jul 24, 2013

    Just because the left wing, Obama Mania Media WON'T report it doesn't mean that it doesn't happen. They like Obama are afraid of the truth..

  • Danny22 Jul 24, 2013

    Many of you folks are concerned about voter suppression but in states that have enacted voter ID, the opposite has been true. ex. Georgia.

  • josephlawrence43 Jul 24, 2013

    I love how the leftist/liberals just love to point fingers, place blame, call people bad names for trying to keep the voting process clean. They claim the changes will disenfranchise certain groups in society. They conveniently forget that it was the DEMOCRATS who, for over 100 years established and enforced the Jim Crow laws, laws that depressed and outright deprived certain minority groups of their right to vote. and now they have the gall to point fingers at the Republicans/Conseratives. Pure, unadulterated Hypocrisy.

  • Bendal1 Jul 24, 2013

    Interesting that so many people here are ok with forcing people to stand in line for hours just to vote. Of course, it's never "them" that have this problem, right? After all, your precinct will have plenty of polling stations. It's "those people" over there that end up with just one station for thousands of voters, or has the intimidators wandering around questioning everything and slowing down the whole process even more, or the challengers taking issue with a large number of votes (always happens in closely contested races, how coincidental!).

    This is nothing about "improving the voting process" or "increasing the integrity of voting" as some conservatives have claimed. It's about throwing up more and more roadblocks in front of certain groups of voters to discourage them from even trying. It's blatant, it's heinous, and thanks to the recent conservative SC decision, it's now legal to do this.

  • goldenosprey Jul 24, 2013

    ""An estimated 200,000 Florida voters simply gave up and didn't vote, according to officials in that state." ~And i am sure they have laws like we do requiring the polls to stay open as long as there is a line outside. So if they gave up and went home, that's their fault. If voting was so important to them, why didn't they wait?"firefalcon

    The lines were deliberately allowed to go long in certain precincts heavily populated by "those people."

  • ILoveDowntownRaleigh Jul 24, 2013

    "Do not underestimate the machine of the far-right hegemony. They may depend on low-information sheep to get enough votes to stay in power, but they are backed by a sophisticated and extremely well-funded oligarchy. In a sane world, the sheer over-reach of this revolting bag of legislation should be enough to guarantee a one and done GA class. - goldenosprey

    Wise words!