NCEIT Assessment & Recommendations- Senate Bill 747
What's Right. What's Wrong (see below)
S747- Senate Omnibus Elections Bill. Sponsors- Sen. Ralph Hise, Sen Paul Newton, Sen. Warren Daniel (Co-Chairs of Senate Redistricting & Elections Committee); Co-Sponsors- Sen. Todd Johnson, Sen. Benton Sawrey
Status: Currently in the Committee for Rules and Operations of the Senate.
Important Election Integrity Improvements in this Bill:
1. New provisions for identifying and removing foreign nationals from Voter Rolls- Part III, Pages 5-8, of S747 comprehensively addresses methods for the identification and removal of foreign nationals discovered through jury duty excusals and who also appear on our voter rolls. This is an important quality control measure for voter list maintenance.
2. Prohibits Bar Coding of Absentee Ballot Request Forms by Private Organizations- Part V, Page 9 of the bill addresses barcodes on ballot request forms. Today, hundreds of non-profits and partisan political organizations provide millions of unsolicited absentee ballot request forms to prospective voters across the USA. Many of these forms are pre-populated with voter information and contain bar codes for the private organization’s tracking purposes. Use of these barcoded forms violates the spirit and intent of NCGS 163-237(d6), a Class G felony. S747 makes it crystal clear that ballot request forms may NOT be barcoded for private organizations to prematurely ascertain which registrants are voting by mail.
3. Persons using same day registration & voting will receive/vote a Provisional Ballot- Part VIII of the bill, page 10, provides two conditions under which a person may register and vote on the same day by provisional ballot. This is a substantial change from the current process in which a person may register and vote by a regular ballot and have that ballot accepted immediately, prior to verification of the registration address. This provision enables the local board of elections and concerned citizens the time to perform voter verification prior to the ballot being counted at canvass.
4. Provides for citizen inspection of Container Return Envelopes- Part IV, page 8 of the bill is intended to allow access to container return envelopes for inspection by private citizens during county board of elections absentee ballot meetings. (Note- the language in this bill needs refinement- see “Important Corrections & Additions” below.
5. Provides for citizen challenges of unauthorized absentee ballots- Part X, page 11 of the bill gives every eligible voter in every county jurisdiction to file a challenge for any absentee ballot submitted in that county. At present, the challenges are restricted to voters who live in the same precinct of the challenged absentee ballot.
6. Provides means for rigorous signature verification- Part XII, page 11 of the bill requires county boards of election to use signature verification software to verify voter signatures on absentee (mail-in) ballots.
7. Compels partisan representation at early voting sites- Part XIII, pages 11-12 of the bill ensures partisan election officials will be present during all days of one-stop early voting (EV). This is a substantial change from present practices, in which each EV site has a site administrator and no partisan representation is required. This change is well-intentioned, but the language in the S747 is not explicit as to which election officials it intended to address and how they are to be allocated. See the language proposed in “Important Corrections and Additions” below.
8. All ballots must be received by 7:30PM on election day- Part I, pages 1-4 of the bill addresses election day integrity requirements. It modifies previous rules that allowed the acceptance of mail-in absentee ballots for up to several days following the election so long as the return envelopes were date stamped as of election day. The change requires all ballots to be mailed in such manner as to be received by 7:30PM on election day to be counted. The change reduces the risk of absentee ballot fraud and accelerates the counting of all regular ballots on election day.
9. Disallows private funding of election processes- Part II, page 4 of the bill, prohibits local boards of elections and county commissioners from accepting private funding, either directly or indirectly, for election operations. This will help prevent the influence of private organizations on local and statewide election operations.
10. Extends retention of election records to 22 months- Part VI, pages 9-10 of the bill require the retention of voting records and archives of elections for a period of 22 months. At present, the retention is just 6-12 months for many records. Extending the records retention to 22 months helps ensure post-election audits can be conducted thoroughly and effectively.
Important Corrections & Additions Needed for S747:
Senate Bill 747 Reference:
Related Statute & Correction Needed in S747, with Rationale
PART IV- Inspectable Absentee Ballot Envelopes
NCGS 163-230.1(f); The final sentence in the proposed language is misstated and inconsistent with many other statutory provisions concerning privacy of ballots. Lines 49-51 ought instead to read: “At these meetings, the county board of elections shall inspect each container-return envelope prior to approving the application and accepting the ballot for counting purposes. Upon approval of the county board of elections, each container-return envelope shall immediately be available for public inspection.” Public access to container-return envelopes is essential for confidence in mail-in voting processes, which are largely unsupervised at present.
PART VIII- Require Provisional Ballot for Same Day Registration
NCGS 163-82.6(b); The new provision is vague and ambiguous. Lines 34-35 ought instead to read: “However, the individual shall only be eligible to vote by provisional ballot and the ballot counted under one of the following two circumstances:”
PART XIII- Ensure Precinct Officials One-Stop Places are allocated the same as those serving on election day
NCGS 163-227.6(a); The new provision is vague and ambiguous. Lines 42-43 ought instead to read: “Chief Judges and Judges shall be appointed and allocated to one-stop voting places in the same manner as precinct election officials for election day. The appointment and scheduling of these election officials for each location and day of one-stop early voting shall be consistent with NCGS 163-41(c) and (d).”
PART XX- Require Two-Factor Authentication Process/Mail-In Absentee Ballots
NCGS 163-231.1; This new provision mis-applies a technical term (two-factor authentication), normally used for internet security, to the process for accepting and counting mail-in ballots. NCGS 163-231 already describes the methods for delivering container-return envelopes in-person or by mail. If the intent of Part XX is to assure each envelope and ballot are legitimate, then the process for ascertaining the legitimacy should be described in detail. Recommend striking this provision unless more descriptive language can be provided.
Not Addressed in S747- Permitted Poll Observer Activities
NCGS 163-45(c); Permitted Poll Observer Activities are not addressed in S747. Substantive differences across the 2000+ NC precincts in interpreting the provisions of NCGS 163-45(c) have led to innumerable disruptions and complaints in virtually every county. NCGS 163-45(c) requires detailed elaboration to ensure uniform application of the law and reduced conflicts during election operations. House Bill 772 provides substantive elaboration to the existing statute clarifying the spirit and intent of the General Assembly for poll observer activities and limitations. Recommend incorporating all of the H772 provisions into S747.
Not Addressed in S747- Access to Cast Vote Records (CVRs)
NCGS 163-165; Nowhere in the NCGS is there a provision for granting pubic access to cast vote records (CVRs) as is permitted in 28 other states. House Bill 770 provides important additional voting definitions, makes CVRs available for public release, and requires all tabulation machines acquired for voting purposes to have the capability to produce CVRs. These CVRs are essential for building public confidence in election results and for enabling future audits of election results. Recommend incorporating all of the H770 provisions into S747.