There’s a growing need to expand voting by mail across the country amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which makes in-person voting a deadly health risk for voters as well as poll workers. But with help from President Trump, who has repeatedly made false claims attacking voting by mail as prone to fraud, Republicans are aggressively fighting against expanding unrestricted absentee voting.
While many of his GOP colleagues have dismissed recommendations to expand ballot access through voting by mail, U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina — one of the most vulnerable Senate candidates up for re-election this year — has yet to weigh in on the issue.
“The president has said that if voting were easy, the Democrats would win,” as Marcia Lacopo, a rising senior at UNC-Greensboro and a fellow with NextGen North Carolina, a youth voter mobilization group, wrote in an opinion letter to the Greensboro News & Record. “Where does Tillis stand?”
Many organizers view his reluctance to take a position as part of a pattern of refusing to ensure that all voters are protected. In fact, Tillis for many years served as one of North Carolina’s chief architects of voter suppression.
In 2011, North Carolina state legislators under the leadership of Tillis, then House speaker, passed a law requiring all voters to produce a photo ID, such as a driver’s license, in order to cast a ballot. Gov. Beverly Perdue, a Democrat, vetoed the bill. But the following year North Carolina elected Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, and in 2013 the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder gutted the Voting Rights Act and cleared the way for state lawmakers to pass restrictive voting measures with impunity.
Soon after Shelby, Speaker Tillis — claiming he wanted to protect the integrity of elections and guard against fraud — oversaw the passage of one of the country’s most restrictive state voter suppression laws. The measure eliminated a week of early voting, ended same-day registration, and prohibited out-of-precinct voting — provisions used widely by African Americans. The bill also imposed a strict photo ID requirement to start in 2016, even though a Democracy North Carolina analysis of state elections board data found that 34 percent of the state’s registered Black voters lacked the required state-issued photo ID.