by Dr. Andy Jackson
Director of the Civitas Center for Public Integrity, John Locke Foundation
I offered public comments on two election reform bills before the North Carolina Senate Redistricting and Elections Committee on June 14. My prepared comments (which assumed a two-minute speaking time per bill) are below.
I am speaking in support of SB 747.
The bill has a host of election reforms. Those reforms will collectively make North Carolina’s elections more secure and improve election administration in the state.
Some of the most important reforms in the bill include:
-Making election day the deadline for most mail ballots. The 2020 election saw postal workers informing election officials that ballots had received the wrong postmark and county election board hearings over disputes about when ballots were “in the mail stream. This reform makes most mail ballots due at the same time other ballots are due. North Carolina has the earliest start of mail voting in the United States, with ballots being sent to voters up to 60 days before election day. Also, the current legal language on postmarks is no guarantee that all ballots will be accepted. Over 1,200 ballots were not accepted in the 2020 election because they were late.
-Requiring that early voting staff be bipartisan. This is already the law for election-day staff and will help ensure that one party does not dominate the administration of the majority of the ballots cast in North Carolina.
-Making so serving felony sentences who illegally vote in an election can only be convicted if prosecutors can prove they “knowingly” did so. This is a reasonable accommodation for those serving felon sentences who may have registered to vote when courts said it was legal to do so and whom election boards may not have removed from voter rolls.
These and other reforms in the bill will make our elections more secure and better administrated.
We have reviewed SB 747, which includes several provisions for which the John Locke Foundation has advocated. However, there may be several important differences between the version of the bill in that review and the final amended version.
I am speaking (mostly) in support of SB 749.
I have seen claims that the bill is a power grab. In fact, the system proposed in this bill will have a more even distribution of influence over election administration than the current one-party domination of the State Board of Elections and all 100 of North Carolina’s county boards of elections. The current system is a legacy of the early 20th century when North Carolina was a one-party state.
Some have claimed that a bipartisan board of elections would lead to gridlock. The current system already has gridlock, but only when the party that controls the governor’s mansion wants to stop an action. A bipartisan board would encourage compromise over one-party domination.
However, granting appointment power to the General Assembly, even if done in a bipartisan manner, is problematic. Although the State Board of Elections is currently an independent body, election administration is an executive function, and moving appointment power to the legislature runs counter to the division of powers laid out in our state constitution.
A possible alternative would be to move appointment power to the Secretary of State. That would fit with the bill’s provision of transferring the State Board administratively to the Department of the Secretary of State. It would also avoid any short-term political shift since the current Secretary of State, like the current governor, is a Democrat.
A bipartisan elections board is a worthy goal. With some changes, this bill can be the means of reaching that goal.
Limited available time meant that I could only speak for about one minute on each bill. Here are my recorded public comments on the bills.