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The articles from Inside Politics With Steve Harrison appear first in his weekly newsletter, which takes a deeper look at local politics, including the latest news on the Charlotte City Council, what's happening with Mecklenburg County's Board of Commissioners, the North Carolina General Assembly and much more.

How North Carolina’s Voting Laws Fare Under Manchin's Proposal


The Democrats’ sweeping voting rights bill – the For The People Act – is almost certainly dead. Not only would it not survive a GOP filibuster, but West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin has said he won’t vote for it.

But Manchin did release this week a three-page memo showing what he would support.

Among the things he scrapped from the For The People Act: Same-day registration on Election Day and allowing anyone to collect and deliver an absentee mail ballot.

But his proposal has gotten some praise from voting-rights advocates.

Here's a look at how North Carolina’s current election law fares under the Manchin proposal – where the state meets or exceeds what he wants, and where it falls short.

In summary, Manchin’s proposal would mean tweaks rather than big changes to N.C. voting. Here are the parts of the Manchin’s memo that pertain to voting, rather than campaign finance and ethics:

1. Make Election Day a public holiday.

This would presumably mean a federal holiday, something that North Carolina doesn’t have the power to do. But some states have already made Election Day a public holiday, such as Louisiana, New York and Kentucky. During the pandemic last year, North Carolina Democrats floated the idea of making Election Day a state holiday. The GOP said no.

2. Mandate at least 15 consecutive days for early voting for federal elections, including two weekends.

North Carolina has an expansive early voting window, with counties required to begin early voting on the third Thursday before an election. State law only requires for early voting to be open Monday through Friday, though counties are allowed to have weekend voting.

3. Ban partisan gerrymandering and use computer models.

Last decade, North Carolina was considered one of the most gerrymandered states. In 2019, the GOP-controlled legislature was ordered to redraw Congressional maps, along with the state House and Senate maps, by a three-judge panel in Raleigh.

The 2019 maps were considered much fairer than the previous maps, and the starting-point maps were drawn randomly from computer models.

Republican Senate leader Phil Berger has said the next redistricting process this fall will be like the 2019 map-making process. Democrats are skeptical.

Manchin’s proposal doesn’t call on state legislatures to have independent redistricting commissions.

4. Require voter ID with allowable alternatives (utility bill, etc.) to prove identity to vote.

This is an interesting provision in that Manchin says states must have photo ID – something Democrats abhor.

North Carolina’s photo ID law is being contested in state court and hasn’t been implemented. The current state photo ID law allows for more forms of ID to be used than a more restrictive photo law last decade, but it doesn’t go so far as allowing a utility bill.

5. Automatic registration through DMV, with option to opt out.

North Carolina does not have this. The state allows 16- and 17-year-olds to preregister to vote before they turn 18, but there is no automatic registration.

6. Require states to promote access to voter registration and voting for persons with disabilities and older individuals.

It’s unclear what this means. North Carolina allows people to register to vote online. Would that suffice?

7. Prohibit providing false information about elections to hinder or discourage voting and increase penalties for voter intimidation.

North Carolina already has several laws preventing voter intimidation at the polls as well as spreading misinformation about voting. The state says “It is a felony to misrepresent the law to the public in any communication ‘where the intent and effect is to intimidate or discourage potential voters from exercising the lawful right to vote.’ “

8. Require states to send absentee-by mail ballots to eligible voters before an election if voter is not able to vote in person during early voting or Election Day due to eligible circumstance and allow civil penalty for failure.

This proposal is vague. North Carolina allows anyone to vote by mail, but the state does not automatically send all voters a mail ballot as some Western states do.

Mecklenburg County elections director Michael Dickerson said Manchin appears to want a permanent list of voters with disabilities, and those voters would automatically get a mail ballot for each election. In North Carolina voters have to request a ballot for each election.

9. Require the Election Assistance Commission to develop model training programs and award grants for training.

This would be handled at the federal level.

10. Require states to notify an individual, not later than seven days before election, if his/her polling place has changed.

North Carolina already has this. If a polling place is changed within 30 days of an election, the county board of elections must make an emergency announcement and contact all voters. The announcement must be approved by the state Board of Elections.

11. Absentee ballots shall be carried expeditiously and free of postage.

North Carolina does not have pre-paid postage for mail ballots, although Democrats proposed the idea last summer. Republicans said no. There are 12 states that do have pre-paid mail ballots.

Manchin’s proposal on mail ballots differs from the For the People Act significantly on mail ballots. The For the People Act would allow anyone to collect and deliver a completed mail ballot – a process known as “ballot harvesting.” That’s illegal in North Carolina, and it’s what led to the 9th Congressional District mail ballot scandal in 2018.

12. Allow provisional ballots to count for all eligible races regardless of precinct.

North Carolina allows this.

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Steve Harrison is WFAE's politics and government reporter. Prior to joining WFAE, Steve worked at the Charlotte Observer, where he started on the business desk, then covered politics extensively as the Observer’s lead city government reporter. Steve also spent 10 years with the Miami Herald. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, the Sporting News and Sports Illustrated.