RALEIGH — A bill to make sure uniformed officers and first responders are not turned away from polling places while attempting to vote cleared the N.C. House of Representatives on June 22 by a vote of 106 to 2.
The two votes against the measure were both Democrats; Cecil Brockman (D-Guilford) and Pricey Harrison (D-Guilford). The measure passed a first reading in the senate and has been referred to the Rules on Operations of the Senate.
House Bill 807, the Uniformed Heroes Voting Act, would ensure that any law enforcement officer, military member, first responder or correctional officer cannot be refused entry to a voting location due to appearing in uniform.
“After reports of uniformed law enforcement officers being turned away from the polls in recent elections, I want to make certain our uniformed heroes will never encounter this issue again,” Rep. Destin Hall (R- Caldwell), a primary sponsor of the bill, wrote in an email to North State Journal.
“Law enforcement officers, military personnel, and first responders put their lives on the line every day to protect our communities. They should not be blocked from voting for simply wearing their uniform,” Hall wrote. “This legislation makes it clear that elections officials may not deny any law enforcement officer, correctional officer, first responder, or military personnel the right to vote because they are in uniform.”
In his remarks on the House floor, Hall referenced an incident during the 2020 election cycle in which two Durham police officers were denied entry to a polling site to vote while wearing their uniform.
Hall said that just because officers or first responders are wearing their official uniform, “they should not be turned away from the polls.”
The incident in Durham came to light after former Durham Sheriff Mike Andrews took to Facebook questioning the Durham Board of Elections’ actions.
“‘Durham Board of Elections what is the problem,’ wrote Andrews. “I worked for 39 years in a uniform [and was] never was turned away.’”
When the news of the Durham incident began circulating, Sen. Ralph Hise (R-Mitchell) said in a statement, “Uniformed police officers put their lives on the line to protect our community, and the Board of Elections just denied them the fundamental right to vote.”
“This outrage is the natural result of the partisan Board of Elections’ chaotic power grabs,” Hise said. “They’ve thrown this election into chaos with each subsequent ‘rule,’ and they’ve already been rebuked by multiple federal judges for usurping the legislature’s authority by rewriting election laws with voting already underway.”
The “power grab” reference made by Hise in part refers to a memorandum dated Oct. 9, 2020, that was (Memo 2020-30) issued by the N.C. State Board of Elections the week prior to the Durham incident.
Memo 2020-30 essentially banned uniformed officers from being stationed at polling sites because some people “find a law enforcement presence at the polls intimidating.”
The memo also caused confusion, stating officers “are permitted to vote while wearing uniforms” in the same paragraph that opened with the language “It is not appropriate or permissible for law enforcement to be stationed at a voting place.”
“We know a thing or two about election law. Gov. Cooper’s Board of Elections is not a law enforcement agency and has no authority to direct police action. The Board must rescind yet another lawless memorandum that undermines election security,” said state Sens. Ralph Hise (R-Mitchell), Warren Daniel (R-Burke), and Paul Newton (R-Cabarrus) In a joint statement at the time.
The N.C. State Board of Elections issued a press release about House Bill 807, claiming their 2020-30 memo was “clear” about individuals being able to vote while in uniform but at the same time claiming, “many law enforcement officials acknowledge, could be considered intimidating to some voters.”
“We welcome our first responders, active military, and other voters whose jobs require a uniform to vote in uniform or in plain clothes, whatever they choose,” Karen Brinson Bell, executive director of the State Board of Elections, said in the press release.
Durham was not the only example of such an incident from 2020.
During debate of the bill on the House floor, state Rep. Charles Miller (R-Brunswick) asked for support of the bill and brought up a second incident of a police chief being turned away from the polls in Southport, located in his district.