RALEIGH – The Senate gave preliminary approval to sweeping changes to North Carolina's election law Wednesday evening.
The controversial bill passed, 32-14. along party lines. Senators had a lengthy debate on the floor before voting shortly after 7:30 p.m.
The bill come up for a third and final vote on Thursday, when the Senate reconvenes at 11 a.m.
Shortly after the Senate approved the bill, protesters staged a sit-in in House Speaker Thom Tillis' office. Capitol Police arrested and removed them.
The changes are part of a controversial voter ID proposal and has opponents of the plan saying this is an attempt to suppress voters in the state.
The voter ID bill was one of the most talked about pieces of legislation heading into this year's session. The House passed it two months ago, but the Senate added many changes to the voter ID bill and is taking the debate down to the wire.
Included in the proposal are the elimination of same-day voter registration, no more pre-registration for 16- and 17-year-olds, and shortening the period of time for early voting.
Opponents of the changes said this will make it more difficult for more people to get to the polls and said there should be some assurances in the bill that early voting opportunities will still be available.
“This bill shrinks from 17 days to 10 days the number of early voting days,” said Sen. Josh Stein, D-Wake. “In the 2012 election, presidential election 2012 year, 900,000 people voted in that first week of early voting.”
“We're actually offering more opportunity for other locations,” said Sen. Bob Rucho, R-Mecklenburg, the bill's sponsor. “It is isn't a matter of how many sites, it is a matter of how many voting booths you have at your site. And if you can spread out more voting booths at more sites that will help alleviate any of those problems.”
This is one of the more controversial issues with a sharp divide amongst lawmakers. The debate is expected to take quite a while. At least 15 amendments have been offered to the proposal in the Senate.
Once the Senate agrees the to changes, the question becomes whether or not the House will sign on to the new bill that is sent back to them in the final hours of session.
House leaders said they are currently negotiating the bill with the Senate.