by Dr. Andy Jackson
Director of the Civitas Center for Public Integrity, John Locke Foundation
A bill introduced in the North Carolina House of Representatives would clarify that election officials cannot prohibit police officers in uniform from entering a polling place to vote.
No person seeking to vote may be refused entry into the voting place due to that person being a law enforcement officer, first responder, correctional officer, or member of the military and appearing in the uniform required by that person’s employer.
Why would we need the legislature to spell out the right police officers and others in uniform to vote? Surely election officials would never… oh, wait:
In Durham, a poll worker recently turned away two deputies who showed up to vote while in uniform at the Durham County Library polling location.
The officers were eventually allowed to vote after Durham Sheriff Mike Andrews raised a fuss on social media.
As I noted last year, the refusal to allow the officers to vote came after a 2020 memo from the North Carolina State Board of Elections (SBE) that made it clear that it was “not appropriate or permissible for law enforcement to be stationed at a voting place,” that police could only “periodically drive by” locations that needed security and that officers directing traffic at polling places “must be in plain clothes.”
The memo also noted near the end of that section that police officers are “permitted” to vote while in uniform.
A 2022 SBE memo toned down the rhetoric about police and added, “law enforcement officers must be permitted to vote while wearing their uniforms” [emphasis added].
The right of police officers and others to vote while in uniform should not be left to the whims of the SBE Executive Director, which is why HB 6 is needed.
HB 6 is sponsored by representatives Destin Hall (R-Caldwell, Watauga), Carson Smith (R-Onslow, Pender), Charles Miller (R-Brunswick, New Hanover), and Reece Pyrtle Jr. (R-Rockingham). It also has an impressive number of cosponsors: 34. All of them are Republican, meaning that we could have a partisan fight over this bill as it advances.
The fate of a similar bill last year suggests that it would not be much of a fight; that bill passed in the House last year on a 106-2 vote, with only Guilford County Democrats Cecil Brockman and Pricey Harrison opposing. It was stuck in a Senate committee when last year’s short session ended.
Hopefully, the “Uniformed Heroes Voting Act” will make it all the way to Governor Cooper’s desk this year.