Bill aimed to alter early voting in North Carolina passes House

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NC counties could get more time to switch to paper ballots (Image 1)_28370

A bill filed late Wednesday night aims to alter early voting in North Carolina.

According to the earliest draft of Senate Bill 325, early voting would be reduced from 17 to 10 days. It was later noted there was a clerical issue in the bill and early voting will remain 17 days.

The House approved the bill by a vote of 67-37 Thursday, with Democrats lamenting they didn’t get a chance to debate it. It’ll come up again for a final vote in the House on Friday.

“I don’t even think it was 30 seconds,” said Durham Rep. Marcia Morey (D). When the session began, Democrats said they had trouble loading information about bills as they came up for votes.

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“We want a fair game for everyone. Every time we start dickering with these voting laws, there’s a meaning behind it,” Morey said.

As is, the measure means early voting would start Wednesday, Oct. 17 and end Friday, Nov. 2, eliminating the last Saturday before Election Day as a voting option.

“To be clear, this would provide 17 full days of early voting,” said Rep. David Lewis (R-Harnett). “Making our early voting sites, the hours they’re open more uniform so people can take advantage of it, returning to the 17 days.”

Weekday early voting hours would be extended to 7 a.m.- 7 p.m., versus the typical 8 hours observed by most county boards of elections, raising concerns for officials like the Wake County’s Board of Election Chair.

Greg Flynn, who spoke as a private citizen, told the committee, “Resources are finite. They’re flexible, but finite.”

Weekend early voting hours must be the same for each county’s voting sites. For example, if a Wake County voting site is open from 8 a.m. – 4 p.m. on Saturday, then all that county’s voting sites must observe the same hours for Saturday. 

Advocates, like Democracy NC and Common Cause NC, say eliminating the final Saturday before Election Day will disproportionately affect African-Americans, who typically vote big on that day. In the 2012 election, 50 percent of registered African-Americans in North Carolina voted early, according to the State Board of Elections.

“Overall, I’m afraid the impact will be to reduce options for voters. You may see fewer sites open. We may see fewer weekends open,” said Isela Gutierrez of Democracy NC.

The State Board of Elections called for an emergency teleconference Thursday after being caught off guard of the bill that was made public at 11:35 p.m. Wednesday.

It said it learned of the bill around midnight, and will send a letter to lawmakers with their initial concerns about this process.

The General Assembly is not required to alert the State Board beforehand, and did not ask the State Board or county boards of election for any data or opinions before drafting this bill.

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