by Dr. Andy Jackson
Director of the Civitas Center for Public Integrity, John Locke Foundation
I wrote last April about how the proposed state budget includes several good election policies, even if not all of them belong in a budget bill.
I evaluated those reforms on two criteria: are they good public policy and do they belong in the budget?
Here are the results:
This section directs the North Carolina State Board of Elections (SBE) to use funds from the federal government to maintain and update voter lists, perform record-keeping in compliance with federal law, and retain or hire up to 15 people for those purposes.
I have noted the need for reforms in election audits (pages 143-153). This reform does not do that, but it does require the SBE to provide more audit information than is currently required, a welcome increase in transparency.
The Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC) helps states clean their voter rolls by sharing data on registered voters who have moved to new states. The General Assembly provided funding for the SBE to join ERIC as part of the 2022 budget. Since then, it has become clear that ERIC will not institute reforms to protect data privacy and fix other deficiencies.
This budget would repeal funding for the SBE to join ERIC.
There is a chance that the North Carolina Supreme Court will reinstate voter ID this year. If that happens, this budget section will provide $3,500,000 to implement voter ID. The money will return to the general fund if the voter ID is not reinstated. [NOTE: The North Carolina Supreme Court reinstated voter ID in April.]
This section would prohibit the SBE and county boards of elections from receiving private funding (so-called “Zuck Bucks). The ban is good policy because private groups should not have the power of the purse over those administrating elections. Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed a Zuck Bucks ban in 2021. While this section deals with a budgetary issue, it does not include an outlay of funds, and so fails the Balfour test.
[The ban on private funding has been removed in the latest version of the budget, although it is in another election bill (S747).]
The election section in the latest version of the budget (hat tip to WRAL) contains those and several other changes. Here are the additions, judged on the same criteria:
This allows people to make color copies of driver’s licenses, learner’s permits, or special identification cards if done to send as part of an absentee ballot request. Making color copies of those documents is normally illegal as a measure against identity theft.
This section gives county election boards more flexibility in how to spend funds the General Assembly had previously allocated for implementing voter ID. If specifically allocates one million dollars to “publicize the voter ID requirements by advertising through media outlets throughout the State and sending out mailings.”
The North Carolina State Board of Elections may maintain a secure database of voter photographs to help county boards with producing IDs.
The SBE’s State Elections Information Management System (SEIMS) is aging and in need of an upgrade. This section would provide an initial $5.6 million, enough to cover the first two years of the multi-year project. The upgrade is needed to provide greater data security and more efficient election administration. The funds were already provided in an earlier version of the budget but not in a dedicated section.
A final new section provides funding to the SBE to help implement Senate Bill 749 if that bill becomes law.
The bottom line is that the budget contains several good election reforms even if not all of them belong in a budget