North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper has rejected a far-reaching elections bill put forth by the Republican party. This bill aimed to eliminate the grace period for mail-in voting and introduce changes to partisan poll observer regulations.
In a video statement, the Democratic governor accused Republican legislators of exploiting their narrow veto-proof majorities to mount a direct attack on the fundamental right to vote. He asserted that the motive behind this move was not to enhance election security, but rather a strategic play to maintain and expand their own party’s influence. Governor Cooper emphasized that the bill’s provisions could disproportionately hinder young and minority voters who often opt for absentee ballots and typically align less with Republican candidates.
The governor expressed his concerns: “By increasing hurdles to voting, they are hoping to dissuade your participation.” He urged North Carolinians to engage with their representatives and urge them to support his veto.
Another bill contested by Cooper is one that curtails the governor’s authority to appoint members to various boards and commissions, including those overseeing electricity rates and environmental regulations. This legislation represents yet another instance where Republican legislative leaders are attempting to shift control from the governor to other bodies, such as the General Assembly or other statewide elected officials.
Governor Cooper, who is entering his term limit and cannot run for re-election in 2024, has previously thwarted certain elements of the elections bill in past sessions. However, due to the current slim three-fifths supermajority held by the Republicans, they now possess the power to override his vetoes.
Senator Warren Daniel, a Republican from Burke County and head of the Senate Redistricting and Elections Committee asserted that overriding Cooper’s veto of the elections bill would assure every citizen’s confidence in the state’s election security. He stated, “Our objective is to establish a secure election framework that streamlines the voting process while upholding election integrity.” Daniel insinuated that Governor Cooper’s opposition stemmed from his desire to control the election apparatus and his unease about citizens actively observing the voting process.
This event unfolds against the backdrop of intensifying political competition in North Carolina. The state is anticipated to be a decisive battleground in the upcoming presidential election and is also hosting a closely contested gubernatorial race. The majority of the proposed election modifications are set to be enforced in early 2024, preceding crucial elections for president, governor, Congress, the General Assembly, and other important positions.
North Carolina’s 7.3 million registered voters are already navigating new voter identification prerequisites, effective from local elections in the forthcoming season. These changes were sanctioned following the state Supreme Court’s validation of a 2018 law in April.
The newly contested bill, ratified along party lines, seeks to eliminate a state statute that permits election officials to count mail-in ballots postmarked by Election Day for up to three days after the election. Instead, the bill proposes that these ballots should be delivered to county election offices by the conclusion of in-person voting on Election Day.
Echoing developments in other Republican-led state legislatures, this bill also makes strides against early voting by curtailing the timeframes for returning mail ballots and restricting the use of drop boxes, while also imposing penalties for third-party ballot collection.
Additionally, provisions previously rejected by veto would disallow the use of private funding for election administration and would direct state courts to notify election officials about potential jurors ineligible due to non-citizenship status, facilitating their removal from voter rolls. Revised guidelines for partisan poll observers would enable them to move freely within voting precincts, expanding their scope beyond confined areas.
Republicans assert that the bill aims to enhance efficiency and reinstate faith in the state’s electoral process. Conversely, Democrats contend that these changes may impede the voting rights of minority groups and could escalate intimidation at polling stations.
House Speaker Tim Moore rebuked Governor Cooper’s characterization of the bill, affirming that it includes “balanced, commonsense election reforms” designed to bolster election integrity.
Attorney General Josh Stein, the prominent Democrat gearing up for the 2024 gubernatorial race, criticized the Republican party for constructing what he deemed as “obstacles to accessing the ballot box.” Stein asserted that state leaders should be focused on facilitating, not hindering, the engagement of eligible voters.
Governor Cooper concluded by pledging to veto yet another elections bill if it advances to his desk. This separate proposal, which passed the Senate in June but has remained dormant in the House, aims to transfer the authority to appoint members of the State Board of Elections from the governor to legislative leaders.