Local & State
|NC lawmakers move to open ballot access for November elections|
|Bills expand mail-in voting, reduce restrictions|
|Published Friday, May 29, 2020 3:52 pm|
|PHOTO | ISTOCK|
|North Carolina lawmakers are moving toward bills reducing barriers to mail-in voting and increasing poll worker recruiting as well as making Election Day – Nov. 3 – a state holiday.|
North Carolina lawmakers are moving to expand voting access in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Senate on Thursday proposed emergency legislation to secure voters’ ability to cast a ballot at home or in person in the November elections. Senate Bill 861, sponsored by Democratic Sens. Natasha Marcus (Mecklenburg), Minority Whip Jay Chaudhuri (Wake), and Valerie Foushee (D-Orange) would expand absentee voting access by allowing absentee by mail requests by email, phone, fax, and via a secure online portal. The bill reduces vote-by-mail witness signature requirements from two to one and provide absentee voters pre-paid postage and envelopes.
SB861 would give counties more flexibility to recruit additional poll workers and provide sanitary supplies and protective equipment at polling places as well as make Election Day a paid state holiday and allocate $500,000 from state coffers to the State Board of Elections for voter education.
“We are heartened by the introduction of Senate Bill 861, new COVID-19-related elections legislation that would go further than current House proposals to expand voting access and secure voters’ ability to cast a ballot at home or in-person in the upcoming 2020 elections,” Democracy North Carolina Executive Director Tomas Lopez said. “This comprehensive plan is North Carolina’s best chance to avoid the mistakes of other states that have unnecessarily exposed voters to the deadly coronavirus and keep our state’s voters safe and voting secure during the fast-approaching 2020 elections and should be supported by lawmakers in both chambers.”
The House on Thursday passed by 113-2 vote HB 1169, a bipartisan bill that relaxes some poll worker recruitment requirements, copies SB 861’s vote-by-mail witness rule and releases federal election money to North Carolina’s 100 counties. The bill, co-sponsored by Mecklenburg Democratic Rep. John Autry, would also drop an ID requirement to cast a ballot – a major point of contention by voters’ rights advocates who contend it discriminates against people of color and low-income individuals.
Advocates of wider ballot access met Tuesday to demand fewer barriers to voting as the issue has renewed debate as Republicans – led by President Donald Trump – argue mail-in balloting is rife for cheating. State election officials across the country have uncovered few instances of tampering or arrests related to it. A high-profile exception was the 2018 9th Congressional District race in North Carolina in which an operative for Republican candidate Mark Harris was found harvesting voters’ mail-in ballots.
“North Carolina is a testing ground for this nation,” North Carolina NAACP President Rev. T. Anthony Spearman said after Tuesday’s #ProtectOurVoteNC Virtual Day of Action. “The fight over our democracy has dominated cycles and cycles of news coverage. We have won tremendous victories against bold, unapologetic efforts to silence and suppress the voices of black voters, Latinx, the poor, women, immigrants, workers. …[W]e are calling on the North Carolina General Assembly to turn the page on that chapter and commit to making North Carolina a laboratory for making our democracy the most accessible in this nation — the most free, the most fair, the most just, the most safe.”
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