by Dr. Andy Jackson
Director of the Civitas Center for Public Integrity, John Locke Foundation
Are they good? Do they belong in the budget?
The 415-page 2023 North Carolina House budget includes a two-page section on election reforms (PART XXVI, starting on page 345). It includes five reform proposals.
Budgets have become vehicles for pushing policies that have little connection with state spending. The John Locke Foundation’s Brian Balfour pointed out that not everything in budget bills is about budgeting, and that is not good:
Including policy not authorizing the expenditure of state funds distorts the true purpose of the state budget and reduces government transparency and accountability.
Such policies deserve their own stand-alone bills to ensure robust debate on their own merits, not as a provision tucked into a 400-page budget bill.
With that in mind, I will grade the five election reform proposals on two factors: is it good policy, and does it belong in the budget? The answer to the latter question will use the “Balfour test:” does it authorize the expenditure of state funds or other funds under state control?
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.
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.
While all five election proposals in the House budget are good policies, only three belong in the budget. The other two should be in standalone bills. With Republicans’ newfound supermajority, they should be confident enough to put them in their own bills.