N.C. elections bill working through Senate committees

The N.C. Senate on Tuesday July 24, 2018. David Larson, North State Journal

RALEIGH — Consensus legislation designed to help North Carolina voters with worries about COVID-19 gain access to absentee ballots this fall received a few changes on Tuesday and then cleared a state Senate panel.

The Senate elections committee approved the measure, which retained all of the provisions included in legislation overwhelmingly approved by the House last week. It expands options for registered voters to receive absentee ballot request forms, including the creation before September of an online portal for submissions. People who ultimately fill out mail-in ballots also would need only one witness to sign the ballot envelope this fall, not two.

The committee approved an amendment that directs state elections officials to investigate any internet protocol address or virtual private network from which more than 10 absentee ballots are requested. Sen. Ralph Hise, a Mitchell County Republican and amendment sponsor, said the repeated use of such locations could signal attempts for absentee ballot fraud or harvesting. But Hise also acknowledged the IP address could revert to a public library or nursing home computer where registered voters may be legitimately requesting ballots.

The measure locates money for state and county election boards to pay for security upgrades, as well as for personal protective equipment at in-person voting sites that will still be open. Money can also be used to hire poll workers.

The bill still must go through two more Senate committees before a chamber floor vote.