Voter Suppression Deja Vu

Following a flood of other states making voting more difficult, anti-democracy North Carolina Senate leaders have proposed requiring that mailed-in absentee ballots must be received by Election Day in order to be counted — no matter when they were sent or what caused the delivery delay.

Deliberate delays ordered by the previous president’s Postmaster General Louis DeJoy caused backed-up mail all over the country last year and into this year, including DeJoy’s home state of North Carolina. That impacted timely arrival of absentee ballots at both elections boards and voters’ mailboxes. Anticipating this, the state Board of Elections extended the deadline for receiving ballots, an act under attack by lawmakers who continue to spread former President Trump’s Big Lie of election fraud.

By and large, 2020 was mostly a good year for North Carolina’s legislative majority party. The one electoral arena in which they underperformed their historic norms was voting by mail, an area where they usually lead handily. In 2020, Democrats far outpaced Republicans in requesting and returning mail ballots.

Analysts suggest this likely resulted from Trump’s repeated baseless claims that absentee ballots are beset by massive fraud, which discouraged his voters from using that method. Polls also showed Democratic-leaning voters more concerned about possible COVID exposure, and as a result, more likely to select absentee voting as a preferred option.

Therefore, Republican legislative leaders looking to change voting rules to their advantage here have first targeted absentee voting by mail. Senate Bill 326 also bars local election boards from accepting private grants to help fund the costs of running elections. 

In 2020, private foundations which support increased public civic engagement made grants available to help cover the added costs of running safe polling places during a pandemic. Such costs included voting venues with more space for social distancing, repeated cleaning of equipment between voters, and higher stipends for poll workers in order to entice more young workers to make time available for that work. Federal and state legislators did not provide the funding for anticipated costs like these, despite having been made aware of their necessity.

There is no evidence the changes proposed in SB 326 are needed for genuine ballot security in North Carolina. Like with other voter suppression and pro-polluter measures in the past, it and other bills proliferating among state legislatures are part of a coordinated effort by groups like ALEC to limit public participation in government affairs and our democracy. Voting rights advocates like us strongly support making it easier, not harder, to vote and to hold our leaders accountable. When more citizens vote, polluters and pro-polluter politicians are far more likely to listen and do right by us.

We must pass the federal For the People Act (HR1/S1) to stop attacks like this. Tell your senators to support it!

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