Penalty Problems Emerge in SB 683

Lee County GOP Chairman, Jim Womack

July 17, 2019 (Raleigh) In response to last week’s report on how the Floyd Amendment facilitates ballot harvesting in North Carolina, Lee County Republican Party Chairman, Jim Womack, sent further analysis into the underlying legislation, Senate Bill 683, and highlighted another major design flaw involving NC’s sadly low penalties for voter fraud.

Overall, that section of the bill (see page 7, lines 4-49) moved the ball on increasing certain penalties that have been long overdue. In fact, on April Fool’s Day 2016, we even ran a fake-news story that highlighted how stealing pine straw was a bigger crime in North Carolina than stealing elections.

The good news in SB 683 involves raising the penalty from a Class I (as in “the letter following H”) to a G, which is the level of penalty that applies to Medicaid fraud. Under this revision, stealing a vote would be tantamount to stealing taxpayer money and this is a positive development. The prior lax penalties were a holdover from the 140 years that NC was a one-party state, operating under Jim Crow rules. Those days are slowly ending.

But Womack paid closer attention, noting which aspects of the law still included embarrassingly low penalties. From his email:

SECTION 4.(a) G.S. 163A-1317 reads as originally submitted: “§ 163A-1317. Certain violations of absentee ballot law made criminal offenses [. . . ]   

(d1) Sell or Attempt to Sell Completed Written Request for Absentee Ballot Made a Class 2 Misdemeanor. – Any person who sells or attempts to sell, or purchases or agrees to purchase, a completed application and ballots, shall be guilty of a Class 2 misdemeanor.

Thankfully, the bill’s primary sponsor, Senator Warren Daniel, amended his work to change the penalty from a Class 2 misdemeanor to a Class 1 misdemeanor.

Womack then relayed his personal observations from his being elected as a County Commissioner in Lee County and his more recent pastime of “helping others get elected.”.

During past election cycles, I have been informed by multiple voters in Lee County that they were approached for purposes of selling their absentee ballots to an operative from a certain political party.    Several confirmed they actually sold their ballots to this operative.  In all cases, these voters told me they did not fill out the ballots in question, other than to sign their names to the bottom of the [absentee] ballots[‘ envelope].  They called the operative once the ballots[‘ envelopes] had been received at their home addresses and subsequently received monetary compensation for conveying a signed, blank ballot [envelope] to the operative.  None of these individuals indicated they did anything fraudulently with regards to their applications for absentee ballots, but they knew they were wrong in selling the absentee ballots they eventually received and turned over.

Critiquing the criminal penalty details of SB 683, Womak suggested the crime should be elevated to a Class H Felony. While we disagree with it being an “H” for the reasons stated above, we appreciate his good catch on that extremely low penalty.

But Womack then continued with a critical plug to the leaky wording:

I most strongly urge our legislators to reconsider this language under (d1).  It should be altered to read as follows:  Any person who sells or attempts to sell, or purchases or agrees to purchase, a completed application for absentee ballot or an absentee ballot, shall be guilty of a Class H felony.

SB 683 Sponsor, Sen Warren Daniel

Meanwhile . . . 

Setting aside the H vs G debate, he skillfully objected to the word, “and” in the original legislation. The low penalty only applied to people who mishandled “a completed application and ballot . . . but not for an application or ballot.

As currently written, the law would not penalize a more organized, two-person operation, where one person pays money in the ballot “seeding” and another person pays for the ballot “harvesting” (as is well documented in California), but would only penalize the crime when the person both seeds and harvests the ballot.

Such subtlety in sabotaging election law can usually be blamed on a partisan full-time employee, working in the Bill Drafting section of our own “deep state” bureaucracy; so we suspect the House will be able to fix it.

Assuming so, the only question involves whether they will be able to recruit a few Democrats to override a presumed veto by our fraud-denying governor, Roy Cooper.



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