Bills that would adjust North Carolina election system drawing criticism from voting advocates

RALEIGH (WTVD) -- Three bills seeking to change the state's election process are making their way through the North Carolina Senate while drawing strong criticism from voting advocates.

Despite some calling out the proposed measures for suppressing voters, North Carolina senators approved all three bills on Wednesday. The bills now face approval from the House.

State Senator Paul Newton (R - District 26), a sponsor on all bills, said the bills are a way to increase citizens' trust in the election process.

The bill drawing the most criticism is SB326 that eliminates the state's three-day window for accepting mail-in ballots.

"I think it builds confidence in the system because everybody saw how long it took for North Carolina to declare winners, even races that were not close. This should help alleviate that concern," Newton said.

Currently, the law allows ballots mailed before Election Day but arrive three days after to be counted. The three-day grace period was originally passed unanimously back in 2009.

More than 11,000 votes cast during the last Presidential Election were counted during the three-day window, according to the State Board of Elections.

The nonpartisan organization Common Cause is one of the groups that has spoken out against the proposal.

"We had a record election year in 2020, Republicans and Democrats and unaffiliated voters came out in record numbers, we ought to be building on that success and not trying to do anything that limits or puts up new barriers for voting," said Common Cause executive director Bob Phillips.

Phillips explained the unpredictability of the postal systems is one of the reasons behind having the three-day grace period.

"We've seen where last year there were reports that the mail service was up to three weeks late. Again, from three weeks out, how do you know when to tell a voter, you must mail your ballot by this date in order for it to count?" Phillips said.

Newton's other bills would prevent state and county election boards from accepting private donations and require the state to set up an online voters' registration system.

"We don't need private money coming into North Carolina because it creates mistrust in the process. So we would eliminate private funding and government can fund government with respect to collections," Newton said.

The NC State Board of Elections received around $4.6 million from outside grants this past year. This money was used to pay for pens, bonuses for early voting workers, and mail educational material.

"In the grand scheme of things it would be wonderful, not to have any private money coming into county and state board of elections but that requires the General Assembly to properly fund our election system where they don't have to seek that kind of money," Phillips said.

Phillips called voters' mistrust in the system 'phony' and pointed to a lack of evidence behind any fraud claims.

"There really was no widespread fraud, we know that not in North Carolina, and voter confidence, apparently was sky-high because 5.5 million people cast a ballot," Phillips said.

Fourteen states have filed laws restricting access to voting so far this year, according to the Brennan Center, a nonpartisan policy institute. The center also tracking 61 additional bills that are moving through state legislatures.

Phillips said these actions concern him.

"Unfortunately, it does appear that a lot of barriers and laws are being proposed and banning about after a record turnout and you can't help but wonder, is it to suppress the vote of certain people, people who may be registered a certain way, or who may look a certain way because again, unfortunately, that is the sad part of our country's history," Phillips said.
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