North Carolina Senate bill aims to protect elections and workers

RALEIGH, N.C. (WGHP) — You’ve probably seen or heard the disturbing testimony of two election officials during the January 6 hearings about how they were harassed and threatened because of their role in the presidential election in 2020 in Georgia.

Shaye moss and her mother, ruby ​​freeman, portrayed with raw emotion how they have been threatened, stalked and abused by those who believe the lie that they helped steal the election from former President Donald Trump. Their words were impressive and perhaps inspiring.

Wandrea “Shaye” Moss, a former election worker from Georgia, testifies as her mother, Ruby Freeman, listens, as the House Select Committee investigating the January 6 attack on the US Capitol continues to reveal the findings of a year-long investigation, at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, June 21, 2022. (Michael Reynolds/Pool Photo via AP)

A bill introduced in the North Carolina Senate — though not based on that testimony — would go a long way to protecting election workers and the voting process from situations like this, one of its sponsors suggests.

Senate Bill 916, called the Safeguarding Fair Elections Act, was introduced Monday by Sen. Jay Chaudhuri (D-Wake), the Senate Democratic Whip, and Sen. Natalie S. Murdock (D-Durham ), but it has been in the works since false allegations of fraud by Trump and his cronies have raised new fears about the electoral process.

Senator Jay Chaudhuri (D-Wake) (NCGA)

“Recent revelations from the January 6 hearings have given context to the matter, but this legislation has been in the works for almost a year and a half,” Chaudhuri wrote in response to questions from the WGHP. “We did not anticipate the tabling of this bill to coincide with hearings on Tuesday, but what we have heard about the threats that local, nonpartisan election workers across our country continue to face underscores the urgency of this legislation.”

Moss worked to tabulate election results and help voters in the Georgia election, but she became a target of attorney Rudy Giuliani and Trump with baseless lies about his role. Because of that, she told the House Select Committee on Tuesday, she’s seen “a lot of horrible things” on her social media, many of them racist and “hateful.” Lots of threats wishing me dead, telling me I’ll be in jail with my mom, and saying things like, “Be glad it’s 2020 and not 1920.”

Chaudhuri also cited testimony from the “Republican Speaker of the Arizona House, the Republican Majority Leader of the Michigan Senate, and the Republican Secretary of State of Georgia about the intimidation and threats they faced. .

Senator Natalie S. Murdock (D-Durham) (NCGA)

“This is not a Democratic or Republican issue; it’s about protecting the heart of our democracy – our neutral, non-partisan elected officials.

The ongoing plot by Trump and others to sow doubt about how votes were counted, to spread false rumors about activities and machinery in electoral districts, and to undermine the legal vote counting process – as described in testimony and documents collected by the committee examining the cause of the assault on the United States Capitol to disrupt the certification of this election on January 6, 2021 – has raised many concerns about future elections.

What’s in the bill

Senate Bill 916 would address some of these issues, but it would also serve to protect against external audits by certifying how audits of election results should take place, thereby protecting the democratic process of voting and tabulation of results.

“First, the bill adds protections for voters against threats and intimidation, including criminal penalties,” Chaudhuri said. “Second, the bill protects election officials from threats and intimidation, including criminal penalties. Specifically, this provision protects private information of election officials from public records in order to prevent “doxing”. [which is publishing a person’s private information without permission].

“Finally, the bill prohibits third-party forensic audits and ensures that all post-election audits follow best practices to ensure transparency while preserving the integrity of our election infrastructure.”

External audits

You may recall that after several state-certified recounts, canvasses and audits in Arizona, a privately funded third-party audit was authorized by lawmakers who believed in the false conspiracy theories propagated by Trump, Giuliani and others.

Maricopa County ballots cast in the 2020 general election are reviewed and recounted by contractors working for the Florida-based company, Cyber ​​Ninjas, at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York, Pool, File)

This audit in Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix, confirmed President Joe Biden wore Arizona and that the election was not “stolen” from Trump, as he has repeatedly and baselessly claimed.

The North Carolina Board of Elections verifies every election to ensure that there were no problems with equipment tampering, ballot stuffing, or machine and counting errors. The BOE lists six steps it goes through to ensure accuracy. All of this is done after an official survey in each county to confirm the results once the count is complete.

In 2020, it took several days after the Nov. 3 election to complete the North Carolina election count due to mail-in ballots, but Trump carried the state about 1.35%, less than half its margin over Hillary Clinton in 2016. There was no dispute regarding these results.

By contrast, the BOE took about a month to gently confirm all the votes before Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley conceded defeat to Republican Paul Newby. by 401 votes (less than 1%).

Yet, due to the continued spread of unfounded conspiracies about this presidential election, voting systems and processes are under increased scrutiny. Many states have adopted stricter election laws that some say discriminate against voters.

Criminal penalties

The electoral process in each of North Carolina’s 100 counties and thousands of polling places relies on volunteers. Every county needs poll workers for advance polls and Election Day and more to help process the official tabulation of results. Recruiting these volunteers can be difficult as most workers are retired.

The NC BOE also has extensive election security policies to deal with allegations of voter fraud – there have only been a handful in recent years that have been substantiated – and rules around Election Day and polling places.

SB 916 promises criminal prosecution of up to 5 years in prison and $100,000 fines for “anyone who intimidates, threatens, coerces…or attempts to intimidate, threaten, or coerce an election worker in the intent to obstruct, intimidate, or interfere with the election worker’s official duties shall be liable to civil damages to the election worker for any injury or loss resulting from the intimidation, threats, or coercion.”

Will he be heard?

Whether that bill will pass the Republican-controlled General Assembly remains to be seen. With the “short session” underway and the budget and other important issues, such as Medicaid expansion, sports betting, medical marijuana and the Farm Bill, to consider, the schedule is jammed.

“We haven’t heard from the leadership since the bill was tabled on Monday,” Chaudhuri said. “I encourage my colleagues opposite to pass this legislation and give voters and election officials – the real people and unsung heroes of our democracy – the chance to speak about their experiences with these very real threats. .”

A spokesman for Senate Leader Phil Berger (R-Eden) did not respond to a request for comment from him or the Republican caucus at large on the merits of the bill and the possibility of its evolution.

But Sen. Michael Garrett (D-Greensboro) said he doubted he would “get a fair hearing in the North Carolina Senate, although in light of the evidence from the Jan. 6 hearings, he is clearly necessary”.

Norman D. Briggs