NC lawmakers to take up bipartisan bill aimed at addressing COVID-19 election concerns

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RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – The COVID-19 pandemic could mean changes to how people vote in November in North Carolina, which is a key swing state in the battle for the White House and Congress.

This week, state lawmakers will take up a bipartisan bill that includes various provisions aimed at addressing concerns brought on by the COVID-19 crisis, as North Carolina still faces multiple lawsuits dealing with voter access. They could potentially impact how the election will be carried out.

The most recent lawsuit was filed Friday on behalf of Democracy NC, the League of Women Voters, and several residents who say the existing election laws would make it more difficult for them to vote during the pandemic and potentially expose them to the virus.

“COVID is imposing a number of pressures on our election in general, and election access in particular,” said Tomas Lopez, executive director of Democracy NC. “Put in place the things we need to be ready for, a substantial poll worker shortage, which could end up leading to longer lines, fewer places to vote, and just decreased access overall.”

Republican House Speaker Tim Moore said the bill that lawmakers will take up this week would make various changes to make it easier to request an absentee ballot without moving to an all vote-by-mail system.

“We’ve made clear, number one, that there’s not going to be any rampant mass voting by mail; that if folks want to vote by mail, they will request an absentee ballot in the manner that they always ask for it to vote by mail,” Moore said. He added state leaders want to “make sure there’s no ballot harvesting, that had all the problems in the 9th Congressional District.”

Moore was referencing an election fraud case that occurred two years ago and resulted in a redo of the congressional election in the state’s ninth district.

The bill Moore supports and has multiple Democratic and Republican cosponsors has various provisions:

  • Bars the NC Board of Elections from moving to an all vote-by-mail system or from sending out absentee ballots out to people who did not request them.
  • Allocates almost $23 million in federal funding and more than $4 million in matching state funds to help hire poll workers, send out and process ballots, and to cover other costs that county election boards will have.
  • Allows people to request an absentee ballot in person, by mail, by email or by fax.
  • Reduces the number of witnesses required for absentee ballots from two to one, while also requiring more identifying information from witnesses.
  • Gives more flexibility to allow precinct officials from within a county to work in other precincts where there may be a shortage of workers.

Rep. Allison Dahle (D-Wake) is a co-sponsor of the bill.

“It makes it easier for them to vote absentee in COVID conditions,” she said. “Money is one of those things that you could always use more and you could never use less. But, it’s a large enough amount of money that I feel we could make this work.”

In an email, Pat Ryan, spokesman for Republican Senate leader Phil Berger said, “Senate members had some input on this bill before it was filed, and will continue working with the House and Senate Democrats on the proposal. The intent is to pass a bill this session with bipartisan support that will provide safe, secure access to the ballot while protecting the integrity of the election process.”

In the lawsuit filed Friday, the plaintiffs are asking the state to go further by extending voter registration periods, not enforce the current two-witness requirement for absentee ballots and to provide voters to correct any errors that may prevent their ballots from being counted.

It’s one of several lawsuits filed in recent months that could impact how the November election is carried out. The lawsuits deal with issues such as voters showing a photo ID and absentee ballot requests.

The House Elections and Ethics Law committee will take up the proposed election law changes Wednesday morning.

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