Omnibus Election Reform Bill Would Enhance Campaign Reporting | Beaufort County Now | A bill modifying a variety of election laws could bring campaign finance reporting into the 21st century while limiting the times special local elections could be held.

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    Publisher's note: The author of this post is Barry Smith, who is an associate editor for the Carolina Journal, John Hood Publisher.

Measure, now in Senate, also would limit dates of local bond and tax elections


    RALEIGH     A bill modifying a variety of election laws could bring campaign finance reporting into the 21st century while limiting the times special local elections could be held.

    Senate Bill 403 is largely technical in nature, primarily making clarifications and correcting citation errors in the state's election law statutes.

    One provision of the bill, which has passed the House and now sits in the Senate Rules Committee, would require most candidates and political committees exceeding a threshold in contributions or expenditures to file their campaign finance reports electronically.

    That part of the bill resulted from a floor amendment offered by Rep. Pricey Harrison, D-Guilford, which passed the House by a 59-55 vote.

    Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett, and chairman of the House Elections Committee, noted that hand-filed reports consume more staff time at the State Board of Elections than do reports filed electronically.

    Lewis compared the process of interpreting the handwriting of candidates and lawmakers to that of deciphering prescriptions at pharmacies. "When you [fill out a report] by hand, someone, some state employee that our tax money is paying, has to type in manually the doctor's prescription that you often put on the forms that you mail in," Lewis said.

    Rep. Larry Pittman, R-Cabarrus, said he preferred being able to fill out his campaign report on a computer, print it out, and proofread it before sending it in. "I still think we need to have the option open," Pittman said.

    Rep. Edgar Starnes, R-Caldwell, noted that vendors have developed software for Windows-based computers but not for those using Apple operating systems. "I just don't want any one of us to get caught by inadvertently being captured by a computer system that doesn't work," Starnes said.

    Josh Lawson, a spokesman for the State Board of Elections, said that the board encourages candidates to file their reports electronically. However, seven out of 10 still file by paper, he said, adding that the state board hasn't endorsed specific wording in the election law bill.

    "All of that data has to be re-keyed into our system," Lawson said, echoing Lewis' floor comments. "That makes it a very personnel-intensive process." Lawson questioned if that was a good use of taxpayer money.

    Lawson said that the proposed requirement wouldn't take effect until 2017, giving the vendor time to produce Apple-compatible software.

    Rep. Mike Stone, R-Lee, sponsored the special election provision of the bill. It would specify that county special ballot measures, such as bond votes or tax referendums, could be held only during state or county primary or general election dates. It also allows them to be held during other elections when all the precincts in the county are open.

    "It makes sure we get the maximum voters out when we have a bond referendum," Stone told his fellow House members. "Sometimes we have bond referendums that go only when there's a municipal election, which we know has a much lower turnout."

    Standalone legislation limiting the dates of special local elections has been introduced in previous General Assembly sessions.

    Other provisions of the bill would:

  • Clarify that an individual may not file as a candidate in a party primary unless he or she has been affiliated with that party for at least 90 days.
  • Specify that on nonpartisan ballots, the order of the candidates' names on the ballot would be determined randomly.
  • Clarify that money set aside to print voter guides for judicial elections can be used for that purpose until the public judicial elections fund runs out.
  • Specify that candidates file their required statements of economic interest with the State Ethics Commission rather than the board of elections.

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