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Election fraud investigation
Read more about the investigation into the 9th Congressional District
State Senate leaders have fast-tracked a bill to crack down on absentee ballot fraud and restore early voting hours on the final Saturday before elections.
Responding to complaints that early voting currently ends on the Friday before the election — eliminating the popular final Saturday hours — Senate Bill 683 would require counties to open early voting sites from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on that Saturday, with the option to keep sites open as late as 5 p.m.
The bill also appears designed to address the absentee ballot fraud allegations in the 9th Congressional District election last year.
It would keep private the list of people who requested absentee ballots until the day of the election; that information is currently a public record, and it was allegedly referenced by campaign workers who used it to count likely votes.
The bill stiffens penalties for some election-related crimes, and adds new crimes, including destroying absentee ballots, paying someone to collect ballots or request forms, and copying or keeping absentee ballots and request forms.
And in an effort to make it harder to run an absentee ballot “harvesting” operation in which campaign workers distribute and collect request forms, the bill would require voters to submit a handwritten request, “written entirely by the requester personally.”
State Board of Elections executive director Karen Brinson Bell told senators July 1 that such a change would require clear guidance and education about how to request an absentee ballot. The state has required handwritten requests in the past, and often voters failed to include enough information in their request — making it a “request for a request,” she said.
She also voiced concerns about a provision in the bill that would require voters to submit a copy of their photo ID with their ballot request, rather than with their completed ballot. Brinson Bell said that because ballots are returned in a secure envelope, that stage of the process could prove a more secure method of collecting photo ID information.
But bill sponsor Sen. Ralph Hise, R-Mitchell, said that without checking photo IDs up front, the state “could be sending out ballots for what might not be actual voters.”
Bill sponsors indicated July 1 that they’d support a proposal from Sen. Natasha Marcus, D-Mecklenburg, to accept absentee ballots received by mail on the day after an election even if they lack a dated postmark. Marcus explained that the Postal Service often no longer postmarks mail, and any ballots that arrive in the mail on the day after an election were clearly mailed on or before Election Day.
An amendment from Hise approved in the Senate elections committee the same day would clarify the provision in the bill that would keep confidential the list of people who’d requested absentee ballots until after the election. Hise’s amendment would make it clear that voters and family members authorized to assist them could still request their own ballot status.
The bill’s sponsors include Hise and Sen. Warren Daniel, R-Burke, as well as Floyd McKissick, D-Durham.
Two committees have endorsed the bill in the week since it was filed June 28, and it’s scheduled for a vote on the Senate floor Monday evening.