Cooper vetoes bill that would remove some from voting rolls, signs Saturday voting law

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed a bill that would remove foreign citizens from voting rolls and signed into law a bill that restores early voting on the last Saturday before elections.

“Only citizens should be allowed to vote,” Cooper said in an emailed statement about his veto of Senate Bill 250. “But blocking legitimate voters from casting a ballot is a risk we cannot take when the law already prevents non-citizens from voting and has legitimate mechanisms to remove them from the rolls.”

“This legislation creates a high risk of voter harassment and intimidation and could discourage citizens from voting,” Cooper said.

This is the governor’s 10th veto this legislative session.

The controversial plan to use jury duty records to purge non-citizens from voting rolls passed the House and Senate largely along party lines, and would have required courts to send names of people who are disqualified from jury duty due to their citizenship status to the elections board for review. It also has an appeal process for affected voters to challenge an elections board decision to remove them.

Rep. Pricey Harrison, a Guilford County Democrat, said conference committee changes (which removed the publication of affected voters’ names on a public website) were an “improvement,” but “this is a solution in search of a problem. ... I think we’re going to end up with a lot of voters who are going to be dropped from the files.”

But Sen. Joyce Krawiec, a Forsyth County Republican, said it’s “nothing different than what we do now with people who are removed from the voter rolls.”

In an emailed statement after Cooper’s veto, Krawiec and Sen. Warren Daniel, a Morganton Republican, said that the governor was continuing “his radical left-wing agenda by blocking a bill titled ‘Remove Foreign Citizens from Voting Rolls,’ even though federal authorities recently charged 19 foreign nationals in North Carolina with this exact crime. How radical do you have to be to block a bill making it harder for foreign nationals to vote in American elections?”

Early voting day restored

The governor signed Senate Bill 683, restoring early voting on the last Saturday before Election Day and extending some voting hours.

Cooper called it “one of the most popular and convenient days to vote. This will help reduce long lines on election day and make it easier for people to have their voices heard.”

The Senate voted unanimously, 49-0, last week for Senate Bill 683, and the House voted 114-1.

Sen. Ralph Hise, a Spruce Pine Republican, and Sen. Floyd McKissick Jr., a Durham Democrat, co-sponsored the bill. McKissick said lawmakers came up with a process and procedure that’s fair.

Under the new law the hours on the last Saturday will be from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Previously, last-Saturday voting had ended at 1 p.m. or at 5 p.m. if extended locally. Now it will end at 3 p.m. for all early voting sites in North Carolina.

The law also requires strict record keeping of all absentee ballot requests and returned ballots, with identification and confirmed voter registration of voters. And it makes absentee ballot fraud a criminal offense. False statements and candidates witnessing absentee ballots of non-relatives would both be Class 1 misdemeanors. Selling or attempting to sell a completed ballot — and accepting payment for it — would be felonies. Destroying absentee ballots with the intent of obstructing a vote would also be a felony.

Hise, who is co-chair of the Senate Committee on Redistricting and Elections, said in a statement after the Senate’s vote that lawmakers kept their promise to “craft consensus legislation addressing the absentee ballot fraud that took place during the Ninth Congressional District election.”

The state threw out the results of last year’s 9th district election and held a do-over election this year.

Mini budget bill signed

Republicans do not have the supermajorities in each chamber that are required to override a veto without Democratic votes.

Cooper vetoed the budget this past summer over its lack of Medicaid expansion and what he said was insufficient raises for teachers, among other things.

A standoff ensued as Cooper offered a compromise budget proposal and Republicans said they wanted him to drop a “Medicaid expansion or nothing ultimatum” before negotiating a budget.

The House overrode the budget veto on Sept. 11 with most Democrats absent because they thought the session that morning would not be a voting session. The move received national attention and a video went viral of Rep. Deb Butler, a Wilmington Democrat, shouting “How dare you, Mr. Speaker” at Speaker Tim Moore for calling the vote at that time.

Republican Senate leaders announced that their own budget override vote would be added to the calendar the last week of October, but they adjourned Oct. 31 without calling the vote.

With no full budget in place more than four months into the new fiscal year, the legislature passed several spending and tax measures labeled “mini budgets.”

On Wednesday, Cooper also signed one of those mini budget bills, HB 111, that would keep most state programs running at current levels of funding. Sen. Harry Brown, a Jacksonville Republican, described it in a committee meeting as a technical bill.

Another mini-budget bill still awaiting Cooper’s signature or veto would grant 3.9% teacher raises over the next two years.

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Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan covers North Carolina state government and politics at The News & Observer. She previously covered Durham for 13 years, and has received six North Carolina Press Association awards, including a 2018 award for investigative reporting.