On Tuesday, the Republican-led North Carolina state legislature overrode Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s vetoes of bills that would change who manages state elections and how early absentee ballot voting will operate in the state moving forward.
Republicans in the legislature have a veto-proof majority, which they attained earlier this year after Rep. Tricia Cotham, formerly a Democrat, switched parties and became a member of the GOP in the state House of Representatives. (Republicans already had a supermajority in the Senate.)
In August and September, Republicans passed a series of sweeping election reform bills that critics warn could result in voter disenfranchisement and delay the process of elections rulemaking, sowing last-minute confusion among the electorate as a result.
One of the bills will change how election boards at the county and state level are formed. Previously, the governor’s administration in North Carolina had the power to choose who ran the boards. The new policy gives the GOP and Democrats equal sway on every election board in the state — a move which, on its face, seems fair, but which critics note will undoubtedly result in deadlocking on votes relating to making access to voting easier, leaving it to state courts rather than election boards to rule on important policy matters.
As the North Carolina state Supreme Court has a Republican majority, the changes also benefit Republicans, assuming that some of the court challenges to election policies reach that level of appeal.
Local experts have expressed concern regarding the possibility of deadlocked and delayed policy outcomes.
“There’s a lot of uncertainty around what will happen with ties. That kind of confusion is not going to help trust in the system,” Christopher Cooper, a political science professor at Western Carolina University, told The Washington Post.
The changes are coming despite voters rejecting such provisions in a statewide referendum in 2018, and courts previously striking them down as illegal.
Gov. Cooper, in his original veto message on the bills, said that the legislation “has nothing to do with election security and everything to do with Republicans keeping and gaining power.” After the legislature overrode the bills, state Sen. Natalie Murdock (D) said that the changes would “create chaos” and lead to “gridlock” in elections next year.
Another set of provisions among the bills that the Republican legislature passed over the governor’s vetoes will alter how absentee ballot voting and same-day registration work.
One of the bills will end the extended deadline for submitting absentee ballots, as well as the three-day “grace period” for such ballots to be received after an election takes place.
Voters who register to vote on Election Day will also be sent a verification notice through the mail. If that notice comes back undeliverable to local elections offices, it could be used to remove the person’s vote from the totals without notifying them.
Critics allege that a person who is unaware that their mail is being sent with an error of some kind — either due to a glitch in the system, a misprint in their address or another issue — will be disenfranchised as a result.
Two Democratic Party entities — the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and the North Carolina Democratic Party — have sued to block the changes to absentee ballot voting and same-day voter registration, filing a joint lawsuit on Tuesday and requesting a temporary injunction on the new laws until the matter can be settled in the court system.
“North Carolina Republicans’ brazen attempts to undermine the will of the people and the leadership of Gov. Cooper to strip voters of their hard-won voting rights is wholly unacceptable,” DNC chair Jaime Harrison said in a statement.
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