Bill Summaries: S916 SAFEGUARD FAIR ELECTIONS ACT.

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  • Summary date: Jun 20 2022 - More information

    Part I.

    Enacts GS 163-275.1, creating the following crimes related to voting in elections. Makes it a Class H felony to do any of the following: (1) threaten or attempt to threaten a person for voting or attempting to vote, for voting or attempting to vote for or against a particular candidate, for registering to vote, for urging or aiding any individuals to vote or attempt to vote as authorized by law, or for exercising any lawful powers or duties as an election official or enlisting another person to do so; (2) knowingly challenge a person’s right to vote on fraudulent or spirituous grounds; (3) engage in mass, indiscriminate, and groundless challenging of voters solely for the purpose of preventing voters from voting or to delay the process of voting or the lawful and orderly administration of an election; or (4) fraudulently advise any person that the person is not eligible to vote or is not registered to vote.

    Makes it a Class H felony for an employer to (1) enclose an employees’ pay in envelopes upon which or in which there is written or printed the name of any candidate or political mottoes, devices, or arguments containing threats, intended or calculated to influence the political opinions or actions of the employees; or (2) in any way communicate that an employees’ pay or continued employment is conditioned on voting or not voting, or voting or not voting for a specific candidate.

    Makes it a Class A1 misdemeanor to intimidate or coerce, or attempt to intimidate or coerce, any person for voting or attempting to vote, for voting or attempting to vote for or against a particular candidate, urging or aiding any persons to vote or attempt to vote as allowed by law, or exercising any lawful powers or duties as an election official or enlisting another person for the purpose of doing the same.

    Establishes that a person will be found to have intimidated or coerced another person if the person knew or reasonably should have known that his or her actions would produce that effect. Defines coerce, intimidate, and threaten. Establishes a right of action for a person aggrieved by a violation of new GS 163-275.1 for preventative relief; permits a court to award the prevailing party reasonable attorneys’ fees.

    Enacts new GS 153-275.3, authorizing a court to order any person convicted of violating Article 22 of the Chapter, which governs corrupt practices and other offenses against the elective franchise, to pay a restitution fine, at an amount at the court’s discretion, to be deposited in the Voter Intimidation Restitution Fund (Fund), established by the act. Directs that funds appropriated to the Fund are to be allocated to the State Board of Elections (State Board) for voter education campaigns relating to these crimes, as specified.

    Part II.

    Makes organizational changes to Article 22, GS Chapter 163. Enacts GS 163-278.1A, making any person who intimidates, threatens, coerces, or attempts to do the same to an election worker, with the intent to impede, intimidate, or interfere with their official duties, liable for civil damages of up to $100,000, imprisonment of up to five years, or both. Defines election worker to include election volunteers. Provides immunity for election workers acting in good faith to prevent election interference or preserve ballot access. Amends GS 163-278 to authorize the State Board and district attorneys to investigate, prosecute, and seek increased penalties for violations of new GS 163-278.1.

    Part III.

    Enacts new Article 15B, GS Chapter 163, cited as the Safeguard Fair Elections Act. Sets forth legislative findings and defined terms. Makes it a Class 1 misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $10,000 for a public official to perform or communicate the intention to perform an official act in which the official, without substantial evidence (as defined) refuses to certify the actual results or count of an election. Makes such action or communication of intention an automatic resignation from office, and deems any such official act void.

    Part IV.

    Amends GS 163-182.12A, establishing seven criteria with which the State Board of Elections must ensure post-election audits comply, including being conducted by nonpartisan officials with expertise in elections, preserving ballot secrecy and voter privacy, and requiring audit procedures to be established before election day and before results are known. Prohibits public officials from providing funding for or participating in a post-election audit or review that fails to comply with the State Board’s best practices that meet the described criteria.

    Enacts GS 163-182.12B, directing the State Board to conduct, in each county, a risk-limiting audit after the general election, where a hand-to-eye recount is made of randomly selected ballot samples in a contest that provides strong statistical evidence that the machine-counted results are correct and based on a risk limit, meaning the largest chance that an incorrect outcome of a contest could escape correction by the audit. Specifies that the audit must not change the results of an election.

    Part V.

    Amends GS 163-45, which gives the chair of each political party in the county the right to designate two observers to attend each voting place at each primary and election. Adds the requirement that the observers complete training before acting as an observer and complete additional training at least once every two years. Requires the State Board to establish training standards and requirements for observers. Makes conforming changes. Removes the provision prohibiting observers from taking an oath of office; instead requires that observers sign a sworn oath that the observer will not do any electioneering at the voting place, and will not impede the voting process or interfere or communicate with or observe any voter in casting a ballot. Adds the requirement that while observing, observes must wear clear identification, that includes the observer's name, role, and partisan affiliation.

    Requires the State Board, to collaborate with county boards of elections, to: (1) ensure election administrators are adequately compensated equitably throughout the State; (2) ensure clear and conspicuous notices are placed at voting locations establishing clear rights and responsibilities for voters, poll workers, and observers; and (3) develop a statewide, uniform system of reporting incidents of voter intimidation anonymously.

    Part VI.

    Enacts new GS 163-49 allowing a precinct official to file written notice with the State Board requesting that the precinct official and the precinct official's immediate family be placed on a list that prohibits disclosing personally identifiable information in public records when the precinct official deems the official or the official's immediate family is at risk of intimidation, threat, or coercion in response to official election duties. Defines personally identifiable information to include any of the following: (1) a person's home address, home or mobile phone number, pager number, or personal email address; (2) a photo of a person; (3) directions to a person's home; (4) a photo or description of a person's home, vehicle, or vehicle license plate. Requires the State Board to develop the process and criteria for precinct officials requesting this nondisclosure, including providing a way to notify the county boards of elections and other entities of the request.

    Part VII.

    Appropriates $250,000 in recurring funds for 2022-23 from the General Fund to the State Board for biennial security training for election officials and their immediate family members. Requires that the training include, at least: (1) best practices for using social media and other forms of online engagement and maintaining online privacy; (2) home security program and maintenance; (3) understanding removal programs and requirements for election officials' personally identifiable information in accordance with this act; and (4) any other security training deemed relevant. Effective July 1, 2022.

    Part VIII.

    Appropriates $2 million for 2022-23 from the General Fund to the State Board to establish, in coordination with the Department of Justice and Public Safety, a new threat management capability for monitoring all-source information that will: (1) provide a threat monitoring and analysis capability for the protection of election officials and their immediate family members; (2) coordinate social media monitoring and threat assessments; (3) proactively manage the monitoring of websites for election officials' personally identifiable information and report violations to the appropriate law enforcement authorities; (4) maintain files of escalating behaviors and work in conjunction with the appropriate law enforcement to counteract overt acts of aggression; (5) maintain a database of each election official to catalogue complaints, including the specified information of the individual(s) engaging in threatening behavior; and (6) coordinate complaints by election officials of all sources and other online threats, whether direct or indirect, with law enforcement partners. Effective July 1, 2022.

    Part IX.

    Includes a severability clause.


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