Updated: Lawmakers Rushing Changes To Early Voting, Judicial Elections

Jun 14, 2018

North Carolina Republicans are proposing changes to early voting, including doing away with the popular last Saturday before the election.  The House gave final approval to the measure 61-40 Friday.  It now goes to the House.  Rollout of the proposal, Senate Bill 325, prompted an emergency meeting of the North Carolina State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcment.  The board's chairman Andy Penry said they had no input in the bill and received less than a day's notice of it.  The House also quickly passed HB717 with little debate, which makes a slew of changes to judicial districts statewide.

North Carolina Republicans in Raleigh for the short session are proposing a raft of changes to North Carolina’s elections.  The latest would make changes to the popular early voting method in the state.  Republican Rep. David Lewis of Harnett County pushed the bill.  He said the bill is about making early voting uniform across the state, mandating certain days and hours.  An early version of the bill had cut back on days but it was changed.

Rep. David Lewis: “To be clear this would provide 17 full days of early voting.”

But that confusion and rushed nature of the bill gave some reason for pause.  House minority leader Darren Jackson of Wake County had sharp questions for Rep. Lewis.

Rep. Jackson: “Chairman Lewis, was the executive director of the Board of Elections or anybody on the Board of Elections involved in the drafting of this bill?   Rep. Lewis: “Not to my knowledge.  I’ve had no personal contact with the director or with anyone on the board.”

And in fact at that very moment, the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement was holding an emergency meeting about the legislation.  Board chairman Andy Penry says he only got notice after midnight.  Lewis himself confirmed he notified the board only around 11pm.  Board member Stella Anderson:

“I believe it’s our responsibility to provide our expertise and certainly the state board staff’s expertise on potential legislation that’s going to change early voting opportunities for all voters in this state.”

The board later voted to formally request at least 24 hours of notice for any bill they might be able to weigh in on.

When several members of the public were allowed to speak, they were critical as well.

“My name is Isela Gutierrez and I’m with Democracy North Carolina.”

Gutierrez took aim at the elimination of the last Saturday before the election.

“In 2016 almost 200,000 voters used that last Saturday of early voting, and in 2014, a comparable election to the 2018 cycle that’s coming up, 103,000 voters did.  So that’s a significant population.  People really use that last Saturday.  Moreover, that final Saturday is disproportionately used by African-American voters.”

Meanwhile Greg Flynn, chair of the Wake County Board of Elections had concerns about the 12 hour weekday requirement for sites from 7am to 7pm, arguing it could be hard to staff and could discourage counties from opening more sites.

“Resources are finite.  They’re flexible, but they have limits.  I think we would better serve the voters, at least of Wake County, in having more sites across the county.”

Despite the pushback, the bill advanced out of committee on a voice vote.  It’s not the only change being proposed to how North Carolinians vote.  Republicans also want to put a constitutional amendment on the November ballot asking voters if they want to require photo ID at the polls.  A previous elections bill that included both voter ID and cutbacks in early voting in the same legislation was thrown out by a federal court.