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- The bill would implement a pilot program to test a new signature verification system in 10 counties during the 2024 primary.
- It also requires election officials to explore the feasibility of expanding the program statewide.
- But it specifically says ballots won’t be thrown out if flagged during the pilot program.
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper recently vetoed a GOP-authored elections bill, arguing that it could disenfranchise people who vote by mail.
The legislation, Senate Bill 747, would get rid of the current three-day grace period for mail-in ballots postmarked by election day and explore a new signature-verification system for absentee mail-in ballots.
"It requires valid votes to be tossed out if the post office delivers them even one minute after 7:30 p.m. on Election Day or if a computer rejects a signature," Cooper said in a press release.
The bill would change the deadline for absentee mail-in ballots but doesn’t allow computers to reject ballots because of a signature.
If enacted, the bill would create a pilot program to test signature-verification software — but the bill specifically says ballots wouldn’t be thrown out under the pilot. Cooper is projecting about what could happen if lawmakers’ use the pilot program as a model for launching signature-verification software statewide.
First, let’s review how the current absentee by-mail system works. North Carolinians are permitted to vote by mail and are asked for their signatures at two points during the process.
A voter seeking to vote absentee must fill out a request form and sign it or have a relative or legal guardian sign it. Once their request is processed and approved, the local elections board sends a ballot to the voter. After filling out the ballot and placing it in the return envelope, the voter and either a notary public or two witnesses must sign the envelope.
Absentee envelopes are accepted as long as the signature appears to match the name of the voter. County election officials are encouraged to alert the North Carolina State Board of Elections if they detect signature irregularities. Signature-verification software isn’t currently part of North Carolina’s ballot-counting system.
State elections officials have opposed efforts to introduce a more thorough vetting of ballot signatures. They’ve said there’s no evidence of widespread absentee voter impersonation efforts that would tip the scales in an election.
Election officials have also said that a signature-matching system could disqualify legitimate ballots for any number of reasons. A voter’s penmanship can change with age, for example. The state’s own programs could also lead to signature inconsistencies. Voters who request absentee ballots online often are asked to replicate their signatures on screens using their finger, a stylus or a mouse. Signatures made using a computer can sometimes look different than those written by hand.
Senate Bill 747 would launch a 10-county pilot program to test the use of signature verification software for absentee mail-in ballots during the 2024 primary elections in March. The bill instructs the state elections board to choose which counties should participate in the program.
The bill also instructs the state elections board to choose the signature-verification software and assist with its use. Democrats currently hold a majority on the state board of elections, which is appointed by the governor. A separate bill under consideration would shift the appointment power to leaders in the Legislature — currently controlled by Republicans.
The bill calls on the state elections board to track how the signature-verification software is used, how many ballot signatures it flags, and how efficiently it detects fraudulent signatures.
But it doesn’t mandate that any ballots be thrown out if they’re flagged during the pilot program.
Section 48(d) on Page 42 of the bill specifically says, "In implementing the pilot program established in this section, no executed mail-in absentee ballot shall be rejected by the county board of elections for failing any signature verification."
Neal Inman, chief of staff for Republican House Speaker Tim Moore, said legislators would have to pass and enact subsequent legislation to establish a permanent, statewide signature-verification system.
Asked about Cooper’s claim, spokesperson Jordan Monaghan said the bill’s instructions for the state elections board indicates that Republican lawmakers want to implement a signature-verification system statewide.
The bill would require state election officials to report their findings to legislators by May 1. It also instructs them to provide legislators with ideas for developing a statewide program and an estimate of how much a statewide program might cost.
"This legislation specifically indicates that Republican legislators intend to implement a signature verification process statewide in time for the 2024 general election. There is no other reason to include provisions directing the State Board of Elections to gather information concerning statewide implementation as this bill does in Section 48(d), subsections two and three," Monaghan wrote in an email.
And, he said, "The only reason to enact signature verification is to void absentee votes."
However, Monaghan agreed with Inman’s claim that additional legislation would be needed to enact a statewide system for the 2024 general election.
Randy Brechbiel, a spokesman for Republican Senate Leader Phil Berger, said Cooper’s team either misread the bill or is spinning the facts: "Gov. Cooper should correct his false statement to clear up any confusion his veto caused North Carolinians."
Cooper said a GOP-authored elections bill "requires valid votes to be tossed out … if a computer rejects a signature."
Republican-backed Senate Bill 747 calls for the implementation of a signature verification system in 10 counties during the 2024 primary. It also sets the stage for exploring a signature-verification system statewide.
It’s possible a future statewide signature-verification system could ultimately disqualify some ballots. But this bill specifically says that ballots won’t be thrown out if flagged by signature-verification software during the primary.
We rate his claim False.
Veto statement issued by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper on Aug. 24, 2023.
WRAL, "Cooper vetoes election bill, setting up another legislative showdown," Aug. 24, 2023.
North Carolina Senate Bill 747, Elections Law Changes, ratified on Aug. 17, 2023.
Email exchange with Randy Brechbiel, a spokesperson for Republican Senate Leader Phil Berger.
Email exchange with Jordan Monaghan, spokesperson for Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper.
Email exchange with Neal Inman, chief of staff for Republican House Speaker Tim Moore.
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