Some North Carolina senators say they should be allowed to vote remotely during pandemic

Capitol Report

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – With state lawmakers testing positive for COVID-19, some senators said they should have the ability to cast their votes remotely.

Sen. Natasha Marcus (D-Mecklenburg) posted on social media earlier this week that she had tested positive after experiencing a scratchy throat and a headache.

On Thursday, she missed a key vote on a bill that would require K-12 public schools to offer the option of in-person learning. She would have voted no and said she should have had the opportunity to cast that vote. The bill passed its second reading by a margin of 29-16 and will be up for a final vote in the Senate on Tuesday. If it passes then, it goes to the House.

“It was frustrating to be relegated to only being able to tweet about it,” Marcus said. “I did wish I could have cast my vote remotely. I do think it’s something we need to consider during a global pandemic.”

Marcus was one of five senators to miss Thursday’s vote. She’s the only senator who has said their absence that day was related to COVID-19.

The state House of Representatives began allowing members to participate remotely in the spring. The rules for the session that just began a few weeks ago allow members who do not attend in person to designate their party’s leader to cast their vote for them. The rules require at least a majority of members, 61 of them, to be physically present.

In some cases, members have participated off site or sat in their offices and followed the debate on bills via video conferencing. The House is now live streaming its sessions online, as well.

House members also can participate in committee meetings remotely. Marcus noted the Senate is now allowing that to occur.

Since the session began, Sen. Bill Rabon (R-8th District) and Rep. Brian Turner (D-Buncombe) have also said they tested positive for COVID-19.

Republican Senate leader Phil Berger said there’s no indication that any of the cases are linked to transmission at the legislature itself.

When asked if he’ll reassess the decision not to allow members to vote remotely, he said, “It’s my belief that in order for us to comply fully with our requirements from a constitutional standpoint, that folks should be in person to cast votes.”

Marcus said she’s adhering to the guidelines on quarantining and would not risk infecting anyone else for the sake of casting her vote in person.

“I know my Senate colleagues don’t want me to come on the Senate floor with COVID. But, it also feels unfair to deny me the right to vote,” she said. “And, that seems to me to be an odd stand to take given where we are with community spread and how many members have COVID.”

Berger left open the possibility of some rule changes if there are additional COVID-19 cases, but he said only those who attend in person should be able to vote.

“If it becomes a problem down the road, I think there are some other steps we could take that don’t include allowing remote voting,” he said.

As for her experience with COVID-19, Marcus said she’s feeling “pretty crummy.”

“I am deeply disappointed that I caught this virus despite doing everything I thought I could do to avoid it,” she said. “And, I now have to worry about possible long-term health impacts. I certainly hope I didn’t spread it to anyone else and make the problem worse in North Carolina.”

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