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NC Republicans propose new early voting, absentee ballot regulations

Lindsay D'Addato via Flickr Creative Commons
Voters using same-day registration to vote early could be required to cast provisional ballots — one of several changes Republican state lawmakers are considering.

Republicans in the state Senate have filed major changes to the state’s election laws.

A bill introduced Thursday by the leaders of the Senate’s elections committee would add new regulations to early voting and absentee ballots.

Voters using same-day registration at early voting sites would have to use a provisional ballot, which could later be challenged or thrown out.

Absentee ballots would have to be received by 7:30 p.m. on Election Day. Voters in the past simply had to have their ballots postmarked by Election Day, and they could be received and counted several days after the election ended.

“Making Election Day the official deadline removes confusion and skepticism from the minds of voters,” Sen. Paul Newton, R-Cabarrus and one of the bill’s sponsors, said in a news release. “It will make for a quicker declaration of winners, it aligns us with 30 other states, and it helps North Carolina move past each election cycle with confidence, instead of doubt.”

Bob Phillips, executive director of government watchdog group Common Cause North Carolina, highlighted that there is no evidence of widespread voter fraud in North Carolina that calls into question election outcomes.

Common Cause and other voting rights groups have said they worry that the changes under consideration could “make voting harder.” Gov. Roy Cooper was quick to blast the proposal on Twitter.

Counties would be required to use software to confirm voters’ signatures on mail-in ballots, and the mail-in ballot envelopes could be viewed by any member of the public.

The bill would also ban elections officials from accepting private donations to fund their work. The bill sponsors said in a news release that the goal is “putting an end to out-of-state billionaires bankrolling the administration of our elections.” Republicans took issue with grants provided by nonprofits tied to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.

Sen. Ralph Hise, R-Mitchell and another sponsor of the bill,told WUNC this week that he met with several groups and individuals in developing the proposal. One of them was Cleta Mitchell, a 2020 election denier with close ties to former President Donald Trump.

Hise says in a news release that the bill will improve voters’ confidence in elections and “modernize” the process.

While many of the provisions in the bill are new, the change to the mail-in ballot deadline was in a separate House and Senate bill that hadn’t yet received a floor vote. Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed a similar bill in 2021, saying the earlier deadline “virtually guarantees that some [votes] will go uncounted.”

But this year, Republicans likely have enough votes to override another veto from the governor.

Colin Campbell covers politics for WUNC as the station's capitol bureau chief.