RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Republican state lawmakers are expected to vote Tuesday to enact some significant changes to the state’s election laws, setting up a legal battle ahead of the 2024 election.
The General Assembly will vote on whether to override Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s vetoes of various bills, including two dealing with elections.
The first bill makes various changes including moving up the deadline for mail-in ballots to Election Day.
The second bill restructures state and county election boards to make them evenly split between Democrats and Republicans. Those boards are majority Democratic, as the governor is currently a Democrat.
The legislature would also take power from the governor to appoint people to those boards.
“The new law doesn’t jeopardize freedom, but it ensures fairness and integrity in the elections process,” said Sen. Paul Newton (R-Cabarrus). “Doesn’t matter who wins. We just need to have the electorate confident in the outcome.”
Will voters stand for site default move?
Courts have struck down previous efforts by Republicans to make similar changes to the election boards. Voters also rejected a proposed constitutional amendment in 2018.
While Republicans say the even split on the boards will lead to more bipartisan decisions, critics of the idea say it could lead to deadlock on important issues such as where to place early voting sites and certifying election results, potentially sending that to courts or the General Assembly to resolve.
Under state law, if there’s deadlock on where to place early voting sites, a county would default to having a single site.
“That’s ridiculous. They shouldn’t do it. And, I hope the voters won’t stand for it,” said Sen. Natasha Marcus (D-Mecklenburg).
As for the mail-in ballot deadline, the legislature voted on a bipartisan basis in 2009 to create the current three-day grace period. As long as a ballot is postmarked by Election Day, it still counts as long as it makes it to the county election office within three days of the election.
Republicans first tried to eliminate that grace period after the 2020 election. Amid a surge in mail-in voting due to the COVID-19 pandemic, former President Donald Trump sought to sow doubt about the legitimacy of the process.
That year, the State Board of Elections along with officials in Democratic Atty. Gen. Josh Stein’s office settled a lawsuit brought by attorney Marc Elias that led to the grace period being extended to nine days. Republicans in the legislature said they were not a part of the settlement talks.
Cooper has vetoed bills that would eliminate the grace period, but Republicans have regained a supermajority following Rep. Tricia Cotham’s switch to the GOP earlier this year.
Elias posted on X (formerly Twitter) last week that if the legislature overrides Cooper’s veto of the bill dealing with mail-in voting the state “will be sued.”
“As they know I don’t bluff, and my team usually wins,” he wrote.
Senate leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) said in response, “I think it’s pretty clear that Mr. Elias is going to file partisan lawsuits. I am hopeful that some of the measures that have taken place since 2020 will prevent a situation where Democrats in the executive branch and Democrats in the attorney general’s office will not be allowed to enter into some sort of consent agreement to change state law.”
Beyond the election bills, the legislature is also set to vote on whether to override Cooper’s vetoes of three other bills:
The first would take power from the governor to make appointments for various state boards and commissions.
The second promotes nuclear energy a clean energy source.
And the third makes a variety of regulatory changes.