Voting hours could not be extended in a precinct where there was equipment malfunction or another problem unless every other precinct in the state stayed open just as long, under a bill approved in the Senate on Wednesday.
Citing problems in Durham County in the last general election, when voting was extended at eight precincts due to technological problems, bill sponsors said it wasn’t fair that some voters benefitted from longer hours of voting. Heightened news media coverage of the problems elevated the importance of those votes, sponsors said.
“Durham was given an extra at-bat,” Sen. Andrew Brock, a Republican who represents Davie, Iredell and Rowan counties, said in a committee meeting Tuesday.
Durham’s problems were amplified because Gov. Pat McCrory was leading challenger Roy Cooper in returns most of the night until the Durham votes were counted.
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Sponsors of the bill said the precincts should be able to continue to count votes even if one machine breaks down without asking for extended hours.
Durham Democratic lawmakers angrily responded Wednesday before the Senate vote. Sen. Mike Woodard said Durham wasn’t asking for more time to vote than the rest of the state, but for a delay so their votes could also be counted.
“This bill is designed to have a chilling impact on those who sit on boards of elections,” Sen. Floyd McKissick said. Elections boards should be allowed to make decisions locally, he said.
“It’s just political intimidation,” McKissick said.
Senate Bill 486 passed along party lines by a vote of 34-15 and now goes to the House.
The Senate approved two other elections bills by Brock on Wednesday night.
One would change the primary election date from May to March, and the other would make it easier for unaffiliated candidates to get on the ballot by reducing the number of signatures to qualify. It also reduces the percentage of votes needed to win a primary election from 40 percent to 30 percent, in order to reduce the number of primary run-offs.