What could SB 326 mean in practice?

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By Christopher Cooper

The “Election Integrity Act, ” SB 326 was deposited in the North Carolina Senate on March 18, 2021 by Senators Daniel, Newton, and Hise. The bill has a number of provisions, including (1) “prohibit[ing] the state electoral council and county electoral councils from accepting private cash donations for certain purposes, “(2)” appropriate[ing] funds to establish a program to identify and assist voters who require photo ID “, (3)” amends[ing] the date by which a voter must request a correspondence card and (4) which changes the date by which “the correspondence card must be received”.

While the first two provisions are important and worthy of study, the third and fourth policy changes are ready for the kind of empirical analysis we try to provide on this blog. In this short article, I report the results of a simple simulation of which votes would not have been counted and which would have been rejected in the last two general elections had SB 326 been the law.

To perform this analysis, I downloaded the ENRS dossier of the Council of State for the 2016 Other 2020
General elections (note: the bill also applies to primary elections, I just don’t analyze them here), selected the ballots accepted by mail, then compared the required ballots at least 14 days before the election and returned by 5pm: 00 of the election day, to those that had been accepted under the electoral law of that year, but would have been rejected if the provisions of SB 326 had been in place.

General elections 2016

Had the provisions of HB 326 been in effect in the 2016 general election in North Carolina, about 24,000 fewer ballots would have been accepted. As the table below suggests, compared to ballots that would have been accepted anyway, the rejected ballots were more likely to be African American voters, younger voters, and registered unaffiliated voters.

The 2016 ballots accepted and rejected had been SB 326 in place

Accepted according to the proposed guidelines

Rejected under proposed guidelines

Total

167,687

23.914

Race

Black

9%

13%

White

84%

77%

not designated

3%

4%

Age

Middle age

56

46

Type

Female

57%

57%

times

41%

40%

not designated

2%

3%

Party registration

Democratic

31%

32%

Republican

40%

35%

not affiliated

28%

32%

ethnicity

Hispanic

1%

2%

Not Hispanic

79%

76%

not designated

20%

22%

Note: To perform this analysis, I downloaded the 2016 General Election ENRS data from the NCSBE website, selected only accepted mailing votes, and then compared the required ballots at least 14 days prior and returned by 5pm on election day ( left column) to those that have been accepted under the 2016 law, but which would have been rejected if SB 326 had been law (right column).

General elections of 2020

If the provisions of HB 326 had been in effect in the 2020 election in North Carolina, about 31,680 fewer ballots would have been accepted. The ballots that would have been rejected matched the 2016 models in terms of age (the rejected ballots would have come from younger voters).

Partisan tendencies are, however, interesting and little different from 2016. In 2020, Republicans would have been over-represented in the rejected category had SB 326 been in place in 2020 (a difference likely due to wider changes in mail-order voting patterns in 2020). Similar to 2016, however, it is the unaffiliated voters who would have been most disadvantaged by the proposed guidelines.

The potential effects in terms of race, ethnicity, and gender in 2020 are a little harder to guess due to the increase in non-reporting of race, ethnicity, and gender (a disturbing trend that Michael Bitzer and I have documented here).

The accepted and rejected 2020 mail order ballots had been SB 326 in place

Accepted according to the proposed guidelines

Rejected under proposed guidelines

Total

969.915

31,680

Race

Black

15%

15%

White

69%

60%

not designated

10%

19%

Age

Middle age

55

46

Type

Female

53%

49%

times

39%

37%

not designated

8%

14%

Party registration

Democratic

45%

31%

Republican

21%

30%

not affiliated

34%

38%

ethnicity

Hispanic

2%

3%

Not Hispanic

72%

63%

not designated

26%

34%

Note: To perform this analysis, I downloaded the 2020 General Election ENRS data from the NCSBE website, selected only accepted votes by mail, and then compared the requested votes at least 14 days prior and returned by 5pm on election day ( left column) to those that have been accepted under the 2020 law, but which would have been rejected if SB 326 had been law (right column).

Take away

The insights and lessons of this brief analysis will likely be in the eye of the beholder. Those who support SB 326 will likely point to the relatively small number of votes requested and cast outside the proposed time frame and the lack of overwhelming evidence that a race or party is consistently disadvantaged by the proposal.

Those who oppose the bill will likely suggest that it is a solution in search of a problem. There is nothing to suggest that past guidelines were placing an overwhelming burden on electoral councils. Furthermore, opponents of SB 326 will likely point out that the proposed guidelines would harm the younger voters we are trying to involve in the political process.

If this analysis suggests anything both sides can achieve, it should be the problems of lack of race and gender reporting on voter registration. It should be frustrating for both Republicans and Democrats alike that politically important issues, such as “is one race more disadvantaged by a political proposition than another race?” it is increasingly difficult to answer due to the lack of consistent data collection on race, gender and ethnicity in North Carolina. This is a problem that the North Carolina State Electoral Council must work to resolve.

two caveats

Before I leave this alone, I want to note three brief limitations of this analysis. First, I only analyze two elections: both are general elections and both are recent. Given the radical changes in postal voting in 2020, a more reliable approach would be to further extend the analysis and also include primary elections. I’ll do it soon if I find the time (and if I do, I’ll post the update here).

The second limitation is that some of these cards that are currently in the right column are EGGS ballot papers, which are exempt from the new rules proposed by SB 326.

The third limitation cannot be solved with additional data or analysis. It is possible that even fewer people are affected by SB 326 than implied here, as voters may know the deadlines and act accordingly. There is simply no way to know for sure.

Wrong

The original version of this post had incorrect totals in the right column of the second table due to my coding error. This version has the correct data. Although the number of cards that would have been rejected was listed incorrectly in the previous version of the post, the patterns and conclusions highlighted above have not changed.

I also fixed three type-os in the previous draft (I had accidentally written HB 336 instead of 326) and added the warning about UOCOVA cards.

——

Chris Cooper is Madison’s professor of political science and public affairs at Western Carolina University. Tweet a
@criscoperwcu

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