State House lawmakers didn't vote tonight on the most controversial measure on their agenda, H658. Freshman Rep. Bert Jones, U-Rockingham, said he postponed the final vote because he's considering changes to the proposal, which would shorten the state's early voting period from 18 days to 11.
"I think it's a popular bill," Jones said. "I think people want to see the cost of our elections go down, if possible."
The measure would have no effect on state spending, but Jones says it would save county boards of elections about $1400 a day per site they don't have to open. (The fiscal note prepared by legislative staff puts that figure closer to $300 per site per day.) But since counties only have to hold early voting at their own Elections Board offices for the first week of the period, it's unclear whether it would save even that much.
As it turns out, it's politicians who foot the biggest bill for early elections. And Jones and Republicans argued last week that NC's early voting period is "too long," inconveniencing working candidates and favoring those with deep pockets who can afford ads and mailers for three weeks straight.
"People like early voting," Jones said tonight after session. "But we don't know that we need to start early voting three weeks ahead of time."
Jones says he's considering changes to appease Democratic critics of the bill, who've called it a thinly-veiled partisan ploy to cut down turnout by Democrats, rural voters, and African-Americans, the three groups most likely to take advantage of early voting.
House Democrats pointed out in last week's debate that the states around NC all have longer early voting periods than the 18 days in current law. Shortening that period, they argued, would be going in the wrong direction. Rep. Jones on cutting early voting
Jones said tonight he's considering amending the bill to require early voting sites to stay open later into the evening, and possibly adding an extra Saturday to the period. He says either change would help early voters get to the polls within the new shorter period.
Watch Jones' unedited comments at right.