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Bills pending to make sure your vote counts


Inveterate election reformers--and you know who you are--think we'd all be better off if we knew our votes couldn't be stolen or "lost" after we cast them; if more people voted in the first place; if the candidates we're voting for weren't bought and paid for by special interests; and if the districts the candidates run in weren't hand-crafted to suit one candidate or another. Thus, a slew of reform bills have been introduced by members of the General Assembly. Here's a summary of the leading contenders.

S-225: The "Public Confidence in Elections" bill (identical to HB-238 in the House) would require that all North Carolina voting systems produce a voter-verified paper ballot, according to the N.C. Coalition for Verifiable Voting, to prevent disasters like the one in Carteret County last fall, where a touchscreen voting machine that did not generate any paper ballots "lost" over 4,400 votes when its software went haywire. After a special Legislative Committee on Electronic Voting heard horror stories about touchscreen machine failures, and about the possibility that a computer hacker could change the results after the fact, it recommended that every vote, regardless of how it was cast, be backed up by a voter-verified paper ballot (VVPB), so voters can inspect their ballots before they are cast and meaningful recounts can be conducted. Chief sponsor is Sen. Ellie Kinnaird, D-Orange, with a majority of the Senate as co-sponsors. Chances of passage are excellent.

HB-851: A first step toward allowing people to register and vote on the same day. Under this bill (S-954 is identical), folks who miss the voter-registration deadline, which is 25 days before the election, could go to one of the early-voting sites in their county, show proper ID, register and vote all at the same time. What a concept. This bill has wide support among progressives and such groups as N.C. Fair Share, the League of Women Voters of N.C., NCPIRG, the NAACP, Common Cause and Democracy North Carolina. Chief sponsor is Rep. Deborah Ross, D-Wake. Chances are good.

S-1042: Expand the concept of "Voter-Owned Elections," aka public financing of campaigns, first used last year--and very successfully--in statewide judicial races, to the 2008 Council of State races, including Lt. Gov., Treasurer, Agriculture Commissioner and so on. As Democracy North Carolina says, "The Meg Scott Phipps scandal shows what can happen when these 'down-ticket candidates' get little attention and rely heavily on special interests" for their campaign funds. Phipps, of course, is in federal prison these days for taking illegal loot from State Fair vendors for her Ag Commissioner race in 2000. Under S-1024, sponsored by Sen. Dan Clodfelter, D-Mecklenburg (HB-1563 is identical), candidates who agree to spending limits are eligible for public campaign funds once they raise a qualifying amount--in small sums--from private contributors. Chances are fair.

HB-875: Voter-owned local elections, Chapel Hill-style, as sponsored by Reps. Verla Insko and Joe Hackney, both Orange County Democrats. This would let Chapel Hill establish its own program of public campaign funding in local elections, establishing a precedent for other communities to follow. Efforts in the last legislature to pass a bill permitting local campaign funds in all of the state's biggest cities and towns failed when the developers' lobbies--specifically, the Home Builders Association and the Realtors--went to work against it. They like controlling local elections themselves, you see. Can they stop Chapel Hill? Maybe.

HB-1024: Instant run-off elections. Remember the fiasco last year when taxpayers were forced to pay $3 million for a statewide runoff in the Democratic primary for superintendent of public schools? This bill, sponsored by Durham Democrat Paul Luebke, would let voters mark their first choice and their second, third and so on in multi-candidate races. Thus, runoffs avoided; also, third-party candidates would be encouraged, since a vote for them could be backed up by a second-choice vote for one of the mainstream party candidates. The Legislative Black Caucus, though, would like to get rid of runoffs, period. Chances: good, once it's shown that software to count the backup votes isn't a problem.

S-430: Independent Redistricting Commission. Every 10 years, after the Census, the legislative districts get redrawn--by the legislature. (And if we followed the Texas model, it'd redraw them whenever the majority party thought it could gain by doing so.) Enter the bipartisan duo of Sens. Ellie Kinnaird, D-Orange, and Ham Horton, R-Forsyth, whose bill would give the job of drawing legislative districts to an independent body, bipartisan and nonpartisan, and take it out of the realm of political hackdom. The result would surely be more competitive races around the state. Right now, almost every district is tailor-made to elect a Democrat or (since the Democrats drew them) to overwhelmingly elect a Republican. That's really not small-d democratic, is it?

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