During a virtual press conference on Tuesday, six experts with Common Cause North Carolina, a nonpartisan grassroots organization focused on upholding and strengthening American democracy, raised warnings about the dangers that a voter suppression bill introduced by Republican state legislators on June 1 poses to North Carolina voters and the future of our elections.
Senate Bill 747, titled “Elections Law Changes,” would eliminate the current three-day grace period for mail-in ballots, tossing out any ballots that don’t come in by Election Day, while adding more restrictions to mail-in voting and same-day registration, plus banning individual counties from receiving grants to fund the running of elections.
What Would Senate Bill 747 Do?
Supporters of the bill say it will provide needed security in elections, inspired by false claims of election fraud pushed by former President Donald Trump.
Bob Phillips, executive director of Common Cause NC, reiterated Tuesday that there has been no evidence of systemic, widespread fraud in North Carolina elections.
The 2020 elections saw a record-high turnout and the 2022 midterms turnout was reasonable by North Carolina standards. Both of these elections were by and large problem free, Phillips emphasized.
“If anything,” he said, “security concerns is a fraudulent reason in and of itself to consider, much less pass, this very bad election bill.”
Ann Webb, policy director with Common Cause, said there are several sections of this bill that both feed election denial disinformation and create new, unfunded mandates for our election system.
The bill would not only require the use of unreliable and unnecessary signature verification software and added authentication but will violate the confidentiality of voters’ mailed ballots by making their voted absentee ballots available for public inspection by anyone, including political operatives and self-appointed election vigilantes, Webb said.
Attacks on mail-in ballots harm people who rely on the mail to vote, people with disabilities, elderly people and those who lack access to transportation, she continued.
She added the bill would bar counties from receiving grants to bridge budget shortfalls and pay for crucial resources while adding substantial and expensive challenges like time-consuming processes and new software requirements.
The same-day voter registration changes will also impact the election experience of thousands of North Carolina voters.
Young voters and voters of color will be disproportionately affected by same-day registration modifications, warned Phillips.
College students are more likely to use same-day registration because they may be voting for the first time, said Tyler Daye, policy and civic engagement manager with Common Cause NC. Data from the 2016-2022 elections also shows that voters of color are more likely to use same-day registration than white voters.
“We can’t help but feel that’s by design,” Phillips said of the bill’s disproportionate impacts.
The prohibition of private money in elections affects which services county boards of elections can provide, including the number of early voting locations used particularly by young voters and college students, Daye said.
The bill would also mandate a voter purge program that will unjustly target suspected non-citizens based solely on unreliable jury excusal lists maintained by clerks of court.
Who’s Cleta Mitchell?
As was reported by multiple national outlets before SB 747 was even filed, the bill was written with the help of right-wing anti-voter extremists, namely Cleta Mitchell.
Mitchell, a Trump attorney and current leader for the Election Integrity Network, worked to overturn the 2020 presidential election and now holds sway with Republicans in the North Carolina General Assembly, including N.C. Sen. Ralph Hise, a head sponsor of the bill.
Mitchell was recently recorded telling a private group of Republicans in North Carolina that voter suppression laws needed to be passed with the help of “the new Republican,” referring to N.C. Rep. Tricia Cotham, in order to stop efforts to make voting easier for young people.
Sailor Jones, deputy director of Common Cause NC, predicted Mitchell’s influence will only spread among Republicans in both chambers of the NCGA unless curbed during this effort.
“Without a strong repudiation from North Carolina Republicans, we fear that Cleta Mitchell’s influence over our elections will only grow as part of a concerted effort to make it harder for certain North Carolinians to vote,” Jones said.
What Is the Opposition Doing?
“This is not about Republicans versus Democrats,” Rotrina Campbell, organization manager with Common Cause NC, said during Tuesday’s press conference. “It’s about protecting our democracy against attacks from anti-voter extremists.”
Common Cause NC is connecting the public directly with their lawmakers and providing additional information on SB 747 on their website. “We need the voices of all voters to stop this attack and protect everyone’s freedom to vote,” Campbell said.
“This is yet another insidious attempt by extremist lawmakers to undermine free and fair elections, and sow distrust in our administrative processes,” said co-executive director for Democracy NC Cheryl Carter in a separate press release from that organization.
“Instead of building upon the historical momentum of the 2020 presidential election — when voter turnout hit an all-time high — state leaders are hastily ushering North Carolinians back to a time where vulnerable communities, specifically Black voters, faced extreme hardships and political violence at the polls. The era of ‘Jim Crow’ seemingly never vanished in the South; it only twisted itself into this modern version of ‘Election Integrity’ and denial,” wrote Carter.
“While we certainly hope the state legislature will quickly realize the danger this package could pose for thousands of poll workers and voters across the aisle,” she continued, “we remain vigilant in our advocacy and encourage every voter from every county to contact their lawmaker and let them know that SB747 will significantly limit their access to the ballot and cause confusion and chaos for local election officials.”
SB 747 quickly passed through its first reading on Monday, June 5, and has been sent to the Senate Committee on Rules and Operations.
Become a Nerve Member: Get better connected and become a member of Queen City Nerve to support local journalism for as little as $5 per month. Our community journalism helps inform you through a range of diverse voices.
This work by Queen City Nerve is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.