by Jim Stirling
Research Fellow, John Locke Foundation
I’ve written previously on the impacts Senate Bill 747 would have on individuals and electioneering groups. The ratified version of the bill, which Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed and is pending votes to override, added some minor modifications. The changes also include incorporating parts of House Bill 772, a bill that would codify the exact role of election observers and directly outline what an observer does and does not have the authority to do. Despite the various additions and modifications to the bill, most changes focus on the state and county boards of elections. These changes can be broken down into three categories: changes to the reporting of data, notifications to voters, and policy changes.
While other provisions of the bill would impact the board of elections, these provisions would impact only the boards of elections and other governmental agencies. They would have little to no effect on the public or electioneering groups.
Of the changes that SB 747 would make to election law that would impact the administration of elections, most of the policy changes revolve around reporting and preserving election data. The bulk of the bill’s page count comes from separating one-stop voting from mail-in absentee voting. While these two voting practices are reported separately on the North Carolina State Board of Elections election results page, under current North Carolina law they are considered both as part of absentee voting. By separating these two practices for voting, North Carolinians would no longer have to fill out an absentee ballot form when using early voting sites. (Current law refers to them as one-stop early voting locations).
Additional changes to the State Board of Elections (SBE) would be as follows:
The changes in how county boards of elections manage their election data would be as follows:
Senate Bill 747 would stipulate several requirements for the SBE to inform voters of changes going into effect in for the 2024 election cycle. They would include changes made in the bill and the implementation of voter ID, which will be used during the 2024 election.
Under the elections bill, the SBE and county boards would have to publish on their website and in any mail to voters the date absentee ballots must be submitted. This information, along with how a voter may submit an absentee ballot, would also have to be included in the absentee ballot return sheet.
It would also allows county boards of elections to begin reaching voters also via email and phone regarding curable deficiencies with their ballots. Curable deficiencies include matters such as voters failing to sign the voter certification, voters signing in the wrong location on their ballot applications, and witnesses failing to print their names on the absentee ballots. It would allow issues arising from a lack of photo ID to be cured by submitting an accepted ID to the county board via email.
Senate Bill 747 would add a few significant changes to how government institutions interact with the State Board of Elections. The most talked-about is the proposed new requirement for the administrative office of the courts to compile a list of each person excused from jury duty and report to the SBE all of those who list the reason as not being a citizen of the United States.
The report would be conducted semiannually, and the information would be considered part of the public record. It would not change any requirements for voting as North Carolina already requires a person to be a U.S. citizen before being allowed to register to vote. A person who was dismissed from jury duty due to citing noncitizenship status but who is listed on the voter rolls would be given 30 days’ written notice and allowed to contest the case before being removed from the state’s list of registered voters.
Another significant change would be the requirement for the State Bureau of Investigation (SBI) to investigate all cases arising from election fraud. Under current law, a board of elections’ investigations of potential violations of election law are moved to the local prosecutor or attorney general’s office. The proposed change would require them instead to report violations directly to the SBI. Both the SBE and county boards of elections must cooperate with such investigations and provide any information requested by the SBI.
While these proposed policy changes have garnered most of the media’s attention, Senate Bill 747 would make some additional policy changes for the conduct of elections. They include:
Senate Bill 747 would add many election policy changes to ensure greater security in North Carolina elections. Legislators have been vocal that many of these reforms stem from the myriad of issues caused by the SBE over the past few years. In 2020, the SBE subverted state law by utilizing emergency authority, sending guidance to county election boards that effectively nullified state law, and agreeing to a collusive sue-and-settle plan with the Marc Elias law firm that altered state elections law.
Gov. Cooper vetoed SB 747 on August 24. The legislature is expected to override Cooper’s veto in the coming weeks.