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Proposed NC Bill Takes Aim At Mail-In Voting, Local Government Powers, And Use of AI In Political Ads

Source: WRAL

Significant changes to North Carolina’s election rules were introduced recently in a state Senate committee. Among the proposed changes is one that critics argue would empower the Republican-led legislature to alter the election processes of local city and county governments, potentially undermining Democratic influence in major urban and liberal areas of the state.

Republican committee members voted to overhaul Senate Bill 88, incorporating extensive amendments to state election laws. One notable proposal targets the use of artificial intelligence in political campaigns, mandating that AI-generated ads disclose their nature, similar to current requirements for identifying ad sponsors. Failure to disclose AI usage in misleading ads would result in a misdemeanor penalty, although these rules would not apply to social media ads, focusing only on print, radio, and television.

This move comes amid growing concerns from state and national election officials about AI’s potential to disseminate misinformation and disrupt the electoral process.

Additionally, the bill proposes implementing signature-matching for mail-in ballots starting in 2025. Despite earlier proposals to introduce these rules this year being retracted due to concerns over potential disenfranchisement, a 10-county pilot program was conducted during the March primary elections to assess the impact. The new bill extends this pilot through November’s general elections and plans to enforce the rules statewide in 2025, regardless of the findings of the pilot program.

Proponents of signature verification argue it is essential for preventing fraud, while critics note the existing multi-step identity verification process for mail-in voters, which includes submitting a copy of their ID and securing signatures from two witnesses or a notary under penalty of perjury. Senate Democratic leader Dan Blue highlighted issues with the accuracy of stored signatures and questioned the potential legal implications for notaries or witnesses if the software deems signatures mismatched.

If enacted, North Carolina would join Mississippi in requiring both signature matching and witness signatures for mail-in ballots.

Another controversial provision in the bill grants the state legislature extensive authority to alter the election methods of local government boards, which could enable the Republican-majority legislature to redraw local district maps, affecting areas currently dominated by Democrats. This proposal has sparked allegations of a political power grab, with Democrats warning it could systematically disadvantage Democratic-controlled local governments.

Sen. Julie Mayfield expressed concerns that this change is part of a broader pattern of Republican efforts to secure political dominance, while Sen. Warren Daniel countered that similar disproportional representation occurs in local governments benefiting Democrats. Mayfield acknowledged the issue but doubted Republican intentions to apply proportional representation evenly, suspecting a one-sided application of the new rules.

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