Election Integrity Act set for Senate committee hearing

Paul Newton, R-Cabarrus, left, speaks while Sens. Chuck Edwards, R-Henderson, center, and Ralph Hise, R-Mitchell, stand at a news conference at the Legislative Building in Raleigh, N.C. on Wednesday, March 31, 2021. Newton is a primary sponsor of an elections measure heard in a Senate committee later Wednesday that in part would adjust deadlines to request absentee ballots and to turn them in to county election offices (AP Photo/Gary D. Robertson)

RALEIGH — The N.C. Senate Committee on Redistricting and Elections is scheduled to meet on Wednesday, May 19 for a much-anticipated election reform bill.

Senate Bill 326, known as the Election Integrity Act, would make several reforms Republicans say are needed, as the issue of election integrity has become a vital concern for many.

The main change the bill makes regards the timing around absentee by-mail ballots, requiring those ballots to be received by Election Day. Currently, absentee by-mail ballots can be received by county boards of elections up to three days after Election Day. In the 2020 general election the deadline was nine days, following a controversial consent agreement that changed the law without legislative approval.

“Every day that passes without a declared winner just breeds suspicions and conspiracy theories in people’s minds. That’s not healthy. Requiring that at least all the votes are in on Election Day helps minimize the delay in declaring a winner and, for the most part, helps wrap up the process quickly,” state Sen. Paul Newton (R-Cabarrus) said in a statement after the bill was filed in March.

The bill would also adjust the absentee-ballot request deadline to 14 days before Election Day in order for those requests to be processed and mailed.

Additionally, Senate Bill 326 bars county boards of elections from receiving private funds for the purpose of administering elections or employing individuals on a temporary basis. In the 2020 election, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg donated $400 million across the country to boards of elections, nearly $5.4 million of which came to North Carolina, according to a report from the Capital Research Center.

The changes make North Carolina the latest state to consider strengthening election laws in 2021. Earlier, election integrity laws passed in Arizona, Florida and Georgia despite fervent opposition from Democrats and left-leaning organizations.