Raleigh, N.C. — State House lawmakers gave approval Tuesday to two measures making changes to state election laws.
One, House Bill 1267, changes the law to ensure that a valid ballot cast early by a voter, either by mail or in person at an early voting site, remains valid if that voter dies before the date of the election.
The bill is named the the Everette Harris Act, after the father of former U.S. Senate candidate Mark Harris. The elder Harris cast his vote early, then passed away before the May 6 primary election. His ballot was subsequently challenged, and under current law, it could not be counted.
Mark Harris and his family were on hand in the House gallery to watch the debate.
Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett, said state law already allows for the counting of early ballots cast by voters who lose their eligibility between voting and Election Day, either through a felony conviction or by being declared incompetent by a court.
"The statute should be clear and uniform if an individual is eligible to vote," Lewis said.
The bill passed 115-0 with no debate and is on its way to the Senate.
Senate Bill 403, a package of changes largely technical to state elections laws, received a lot more discussion – and gained an amendment requiring state lawmakers to begin filing all campaign finance reports electronically by 2017.
The amendment by Rep. Pricey Harrison, D-Guilford, is similar to a bill the House passed by an overwhelming margin last year, but some members still objected to the idea.
"I just don’t think we ought to force the members to file the reports electronically." said Rep Edgar Starnes, R-Caldwell.
"This seems to me like a solution searching for a problem," agreed Rep. Dana Bumgartner, R-Gaston.
But Lewis, the bill's sponsor, supported the amendment.
"When you submit your forms by hand," he told the House, "someone – some state employee that our tax money is paying – has to type in manually the doctor’s prescription that you put on the forms that you mail in."
Lewis said the 2017 date will give the State Board of Elections time to implement its new software system for the filings. The vendor, he pointed out, is already late in delivering that software.
Setting a date "will send a strong message to the vendor that we’re watching," he said
The amendment passed narrowly, 59-55.
House Minority Leader Larry Hall tried twice unsuccessfully to amend the bill. One proposal would have required political candidates to report federal fundraising to the State Board of Elections as well as the Federal Elections Commission.
House Speaker Thom Tillis has been criticized for continuing to raise money for his U.S. Senate campaign during session. He formally excused himself from voting on the amendment under the House's conflict-of-interest rules. The amendment was promptly tabled – killed without a vote on the matter – by House Rules Chairman Tim Moore, R-Cleveland.
A second amendment from Hall, D-Durham, would have removed a section of the bill that would allow the state elections board to purge county voter rolls, rather than directing the counties to do it themselves, as under current law.
Lewis said it's a question of efficiency. "Why would we give the state board the authority to tell the county boards to do something, but withhold the authority for the state board to do it themselves?"
But Hall said state-engineered voter roll purges have led to huge debacles in other states, including Florida in 2012, where thousands of living voters were declared dead and ineligible to vote.
Hall used the example of a father and son with the same name, living at the same address. If the father should die, Hall said, county elections officials would be far more likely to know that the other person at that address is still alive and eligible to vote.
He questioned the motivation for the state purges. "There's been no problem that's been brought before you," he said.
That amendment failed on party lines, 43-70. The bill itself passed 80-34.
Both measures now move to the Senate. The omnibus was inserted into a Senate bill, so it could require just one concurrence vote. However, the deceased voter bill will have to move through the committee process in the Senate, where leaders have said they're closing down committees on Thursday.