Parties revving up election engines

Published April 1, 2021

By Rick Henderson

For the next few weeks, North Carolina may supplant Georgia as the state generating the most interest from political geeks and news junkies over changes in election laws.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican, Thursday signed a 98-page elections overhaul, passed along party lines, that had progressives fighting mad and conservatives on the defensive. Some of the left-leaning outrage was misplaced — in part, because the final version of the bill toned down several worrisome provisions. But left-leaning groups plan to shower the Peach State with money and activism as they protest the new law. The perception that SB 202 could disenfranchise minority and low-income voters, true or not, may backfire on Republicans, pushing a state moving from red to purple toward a bluish hue.

There was plenty of drama.

Let’s highlight six proposals in the hopper.

*  SB 326, the Election Integrity Act, Republican sponsors. Requires absentee mail ballots to arrive at county election boards no later than 5 p.m. Election Day, with exceptions for overseas and military ballots. It also would ban local elections boards from taking private money to help “election administration,” (aka “Zuck Bucks,” money a nonprofit underwritten by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg gave local officials around the country, allegedly to help progressives get more votes).
*  SB 360, Prohibit Collusive Settlements by the AG, Republican sponsors. Requires approval of the speaker of the House and the Senate president pro tem before the attorney general can settle a lawsuit in which the legislative leaders are named as parties. This would prevent a repeat of the controversial settlement the State Board of Elections made in late September with Democratic superlawyer Marc Elias over changes in election laws — the SBE says they were rules — behind closed doors and with no legislative input. The bill would ban potential “sue-and-settle” deals. I wrote about the matter here. 
*  SB 364, Automatic Voter Registration, Democratic sponsors. Use DMV and other government offices to register all eligible residents to vote unless they choose not to be registered.
*  SB 369, Make Election Day a State Holiday, various Democratic sponsors. State employees would get a paid day off.
*  HJR 330, Opposing Federal Authority Regarding Election, Republican sponsors. A resolution, lacking the force of law, opposing H.R. 1, the Democrat-sponsored federal election overhaul bill. Earlier thoughts about the federal bill here, here, and here.
*  HB 437, Fair Maps Act, Democratic sponsors. Would put on the ballot a constitutional amendment setting up an independent committee for redistricting. Committee members couldn’t be lawmakers, legislative staff, other public officeholders, or family members.

My educated guess: Barring major fence-mending changes, the GOP-sponsored bills will pass along party lines and go to Gov. Roy Cooper, who’ll veto them. The vetoes will stand. The Democrat-sponsored bills won’t get out of committee.

Other election-bills will be filed, too, along with redistricting and congressional reapportionment plans. Each side will get its talking points and issues to tout during the 2022 election season.

The music goes down and around …