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NC rights groups say GOP bills impede voting access

By Gary D. Robertson
Associated Press

RALEIGH — Civil and voting rights groups Monday blasted election bills written by North Carolina Republicans and expected on the Senate floor this week, calling them another GOP attempt at voter suppression, especially of minority groups.

Senate GOP leaders are advancing three measures, one of which would require mail-in absentee ballots be received by mail or handed in by 5 p.m. on the date of the election in order to count. Current law gives a three-day grace period for envelopes postmarked by the primary or general election date. A legal settlement extended the time to nine days in the 2020 election.

“These bills are not about election integrity and they are not about transparency,” Manny Mejia with Democracy North Carolina said at a news conference outside the Legislative Building. “They are about controlling who has the right to vote by repeating tactics that have historically disenfranchised voters.”

Another GOP measure prohibits the acceptance of private money to administer elections, while the other develops wider online voter registration options and promises to fund a program to get photo identifications to people who lack them. A voter ID requirement approved in 2018 remains blocked as litigation challenging it continues.

GOP senators say moving up the date to accept ballots will build voter confidence in election outcomes and likely speed up the time in which the news media can call races for a candidate. But Senate Democrats and the critics at Monday’s event said it will only result in frustration because voters won’t know exactly when they must mail their ballot envelope for the U.S. Postal Service to deliver it on time.

More than 11,600 ballots received during the first three days after the 2020 Election Day were lawfully counted, according to State Board of Elections data. Results still won’t get finalized by county and state officials until later in the month of each election.

“Throwing away thousands upon thousands of legitimate votes won’t provide election finality any sooner,” said Allison Riggs with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice and the lead attorney in a pending voter ID lawsuit. She calls the bills just another attempt by the GOP-controlled General Assembly over the past decade “to impede free and fair elections.” Republicans disagree and say North Carolina voting rules offer lots of time to vote early in person or by mail, and that voters would make adjustments to ensure their votes get turned in earlier.

Republicans in state legislatures have filed scores of elections-related measures this year, some of which stem from baseless claims by former President Donald Trump and his allies challenging the results of the presidential election. North Carolina Senate Republicans have not directly cited such claims.

The measure would have to pass the Senate and House before going to the desk of Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, a strong voting rights advocate. Danielle Brown with Black Voters Matter mentioned how Democrats in the Texas legislature walked out to derail, at least temporarily, GOP election legislation two weeks ago. In North Carolina, Brown said, “we ask our folks to do the same thing.”

The proposed ban on nonprofit giving comes as the state and nearly all county election boards benefitted from millions of dollars from nonprofit groups for the 2020 elections. Republican say such giving can raise questions of undue influence on elections. Monday’s speakers said the option should not be barred when election administration funding is insufficient.

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