North Carolina would end its three-day grace period for absentee ballots arriving after Election Day, and counties would be banned from taking so-called “Zuck bucks,” under provisions of an omnibus elections bill filed Thursday in the state Senate.
The new Election Day deadline for absentee ballots and the prohibition of private election funding are two of the more than 20 provisions in Senate Bill 747.
The bill “will strengthen election laws, increase confidence in election administration, and align North Carolina with 30 other states by establishing Election Day as the firm deadline for accepting absentee ballots,” according to a news release from the bill’s three sponsors. Each is a co-chairman of the Senate Redistricting and Elections Committee.
The bill would require absentee ballots to arrive at local elections boards by 7:30 p.m. on Election Day. The change would align North Carolina with the majority of other states.
“Making Election Day the official deadline removes confusion and skepticism from the minds of voters,” said Sen. Paul Newton, R-Cabarrus, a co-sponsor. “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.”
S.B. 747 would prohibit county commissioners from accepting private donations for election administration. The issue attracted attention during the last election cycle when Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg helped fund local elections administration efforts in communities across the country. Investigations revealed that the targeted areas tended to have higher turnout among Democratic voters.
“The injection of hundreds of millions of private dollars into the U.S. elections was rightfully scrutinized by many Americans,” said Sen. Warren Daniel, R-Burke, a bill co-sponsor. “By putting an end to out-of-state billionaires bankrolling the administration of our elections, we will maintain election integrity and steer clear from the very notion of outside influence.”
Bill sponsors highlighted other provisions of S.B. 747 that would:
- Require local Superior Court clerks to notify state election officials of names of people disqualified from jury duty because they are not citizens.
- Permit public inspection of absentee ballots at weekly county elections board meetings.
- Extend to 22 months the time elections records must be retained and preserved, matching existing federal requirements.
- Require precinct officials to log names of people assisting voters.
- Require provisional ballots from any prospective voter taking advantage of same-day registration.
- Require a new two-factor authentication process for absentee ballots cast by mail.
- Require signature verification software to check signatures of voters using absentee ballots.
Bill sponsors cited John Locke Foundation polling that showed “low voter confidence” in elections. “In 2021, a Cygnal poll found that only 49% of North Carolinians believed the 2022 elections would be ‘free and fair,’” the news release noted. “The legislature passed multiple bills addressing those issues. Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed those commonsense bills. More recent polling by Cygnal shows that only 50% of North Carolinians believe our elections will be free and fair, a clear confirmation that voter confidence has not improved.”
“We cannot afford to do nothing in the face of low voter confidence,” said Sen. Ralph Hise, R-Mitchell, a bill co-sponsor. “This bill builds on popular legislation that Gov. Cooper vetoed and makes key changes that we believe will assist our elections officials and modernize the administration of elections in North Carolina.”
S.B. 747 is likely to make its first stop in the elections committee Newton, Daniel, and Hise co-chair.