by Bob Geary
[Updated to correct the bill number in the headline. Not Senate Bill 589, but House Bill 589 as rewritten by the Senate. Sorry: RJG.]
When I need to know about election laws, I turn to Bob Hall, executive director of Democracy North Carollina. He's the expert. He's also seen it all, so he doesn't exaggerate, doesn't say the sky is falling when it isn't. Hopes for better days even when it is.
Here's Hall's statement and summary of the bill:
The Senate leadership’s rewrite of H-589 is being taken up at 2 PM today in LOB Room 544. It is breathtaking in scope and radical in purpose. It makes the most sweeping changes to the core parts of our state’s election process in decades. In 57 pages, it redefines and restricts who can vote, where, when and how, while also allowing more money to pour into our elections.
It seems fitting that the bill is being rammed through in the final days of the session. The substance and process of this legislation demonstrates a complete disrespect of honest voters. It authorizes vigilante partisan “observers” to roam through polling places and creates new barriers at every turn. The bill will drive more people away from the polling booth, either to not vote at all or to use the mail-in absentee process, which we already know if where most fraud occurs.
This is elitist politics at its worse — political bullies rigging the election process for their own narrow interests. We hope that other Senators and House members will bring the Senate leaders to their senses and stop this legislative madness.
Here are some controversial features included in the rewritten bill, in addition to the Senate changes in the photo ID provisions (e.g., eliminating all college IDs, local government IDs):
** cuts a full week off the Early Voting period
** eliminates flexibility in opening Early Voting sites at different hours within a county
** eliminates same-day voter registration during Early Voting
** eliminates straight party ticket voting
** repeals pre-registration for 16 and 17 year olds and repeals mandate for election officials to conduct high-school registration drives
** authorizes vigilante poll observers, lots of them, with expanded range of interference
** expands the scope of who may examine registration records and challenge voters
** repeals out-of-precinct voting
** makes it more difficult to add satellite polling sites for the elderly or voters with disabilities
** changes what is the official ballot, particularly for DRE machines
** limits who can assist a voter adjudicated to be incompetent by court
** repeals three public financing programs
** raises contribution limits to $5,000; and the limit increases every two years with inflation
** repeals disclosure requirements of outside money under Candidate Specific Communications
** reduces disclosure of electioneering communications in legislative, state and federal elections and increase influence of “dark money”
** studies rather than requires electronic filing
** moves the presidential primary to first Tuesday after South Carolina, if SC holds its primary before March 15