House Bill 1267 is a great example of the old adage “hard cases make bad law.” It was drafted in honor of U.S. Senate candidate Mark Harris’ father, who cast a ballot during the early voting period this year but passed away before May’s primary Election Day. Speaker of the House Thom Tillis, co-sponsor of the bill, ultimately won the Republican Primary for U.S. Senate. HB 1267 will effectively allow dead people to vote by counting ballots of people who die before Election Day. The precedent would be set and “Election Day” would be a thing of the past – we could end up calling it something like “Election Window” or “Election Time Period.”
The dilemma of voters who vote and die before Election Day has been a problem exacerbated by the continued move to more and more early voting. According to an AP article written in 2004 (datelined Raleigh, NC), North Carolina requires a retrievable ballot that is not counted until Election Day specifically to address the possibility of a voter casting an early vote and then dying before Election Day. The process was intended to allow election officials to retrieve the ballot if they are notified that an early voter has died.
Here’s the rub: For the most part, only well-known citizens and politicos and associates of politicos have their votes challenged when they vote and then die before Election Day, while other voters die without their demise coming to the attention of the authorities, so their votes are counted. But there is no good way to remedy this situation. Any possible “solution” (outside of eliminating early voting altogether) would not make this wrong right. It would, as this legislation does, only make matters worse. Imagine the new motto “North Carolina – First in Dead People Voting.”
This is not a new problem; it is a result of a progressive idea – early voting without an excuse. Liberals campaigned for early voting in the 1990s by promising that it would increase turnout. While early voting has become popular in N.C, especially in presidential election years, it has failed to increased turnout. The progressives also assured the voters that this new way of voting would not diminish the role of Election Day, all the while knowing that they could not enforce the law because in North Carolina only voters can challenge other voter’s ballots.
How do I know that? In the 2004 AP article there’s a quote from Don Wright, then and now General Counsel to the State Board of Elections. “We don’t check the hospitals on the day before the election,” Wright told the AP. “We’re not at the morgue.”
It’s very likely his quote made me cringe when I read it years ago, because it makes me cringe now. Leave it to Wright (a throwback to previous administrations) to make a sarcastic and flippant statement about something so important – but I digress.
We can only hope the legislature will stop and reflect on recent hard-fought successes before enacting this legislation. The champions of election integrity gained momentum in 2011–2013, and last year the General Assembly finally passed a landmark elections reform bill (the Voter Identification Verification Act – VIVA) that was the big first step in restoring the people’s confidence in the voting process in NC.
We can understand the sentiment that prompted HB 1267. But it sets a bad precedent and opens the door for more legislation that would set us on the slippery slope of progressive chaos at the polls.