RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina voters would have more options in requesting absentee ballots and officials would get funds to keep precincts cleaned and staffed, according to legislation advancing at the General Assembly to address COVID-19 challenges.
The measure that cleared two House committees on Wednesday prepares for November’s high-stakes election to occur amid the pandemic.
Fewer than 5% of the 4.8 million votes in North Carolina during the 2016 general election were cast using traditional mail-in absentee ballots.
But that portion is expected to spike this fall as many will want to avoid public places, especially if they are at higher risk of developing severe complications from the coronavirus.
While early in-person voting and Election Day voting will continue, elections boards worry they won’t have enough workers to staff precincts and voting centers.
“Because of the pandemic, voting is going to change,” said Rep. Holly Grange, a New Hanover County Republican and one of four chief sponsors of the bill — two Democrats and two Republicans. “So we wanted to make sure we gave the county boards of elections the resources that they needed and the guidance so that they could execute a safe election.”
Any North Carolina registered voter already can cast a mail-in ballot and doesn’t need a reason to do so.
A person currently must fill out a ballot request form and deliver it in person or by mail to the elections board in their home county.
The county board then sends an absentee “application” and a ballot to the voter, who then fills out both.
Two witness signatures are needed on the ballot envelope.
Under the measure heading to the House floor on Thursday, people also will be able to return their completed request forms by email or fax.
The state board would create by September an online portal whereby requests could be submitted.
And in response to people remaining at home due to health concerns, only one witness would be needed this fall.
It would be a felony for an election worker or board member to send or deliver a ballot to someone who didn’t ask for one.
The bill also distributes $27 million in federal and state funds to the State Board of Elections and boards in all 100 counties for upgraded security and equipment.
The state board also must purchase and distribute personal protective equipment to county election officials.
Election officials preparing for a primary runoff next month for a western North Carolina congressional district already plan to provide single-use pens, hand sanitizer, and protective barriers at in-person voting sites.