From News & Observer: NC should act now to avoid voting problems seen elsewhere during the pandemic

Op-ed By Melissa Price Kromm

July 19, 2020

The chaos that unfolded during the recent primaries in Georgia, Wisconsin, and other states was unacceptable. Voters in those states, particularly people of color, faced countless barriers to voting – including waits of up to five hours at polling sites, broken voting machines, polling place closures, and absentee ballot delays.

The general election is just months away, and North Carolina is running out of time.

To run a safe and fair election this November, our U.S. Senators Thom Tillis and Richard Burr must urgently invest in and implement election protection reforms across the country so all Americans have equal access to the ballot box.

Experts estimate that the reforms needed to secure our elections will require a $4 billion investment from Congress. $400 million has already been sent to states, but without stringent enough requirements to ensure voters will have full access to voting. Many important reforms are laid out in the HEROES Act, but there are several key measures that North Carolina state leaders could implement that would boost access to the ballot and ensure North Carolinians don’t have to choose between their health and their vote.

Some reforms North Carolina should pursue this election year include more public education through mailers and other media to notify the public of election changes; recruiting more poll workers by supplemental pay and added safety measures, and hiring additional poll workers for curbside voting; drop boxes to make it easier to cast absentee ballots; and proactively mailing every voter an absentee ballot request form.

Here in North Carolina, the legislature passed a bipartisan COVID19 election response bill, HB 1169, which is a good first step but not enough. The bill helps voters in a pandemic by allowing voters to request an absentee ballot through a new online portal; lowering the witness requirement to cast an absentee ballot from two to one; providing funds for more and larger early-voting sites, more weekend hours, and protective equipment at all voting sites; and improving procedures to track an absentee ballot.

However, as the pandemic rages on, we need more.

By enacting common-sense solutions now, we can ensure North Carolinians are able to safely cast their ballots no matter where they live. There is overwhelming support from the electorate and leaders in both political parties to pass pro-voter reforms. In fact, new polling of voters in battleground states found that after voters learned that vote-by-mail would make it “easier for people to vote who may not be comfortable going to a polling place because of the coronavirus,” 73 percent supported it.

All voters benefit when we protect the right to safely vote during a pandemic.

More people safely accessing the polls in November does not give either party an upper hand. Research shows that expanding voting accessibility through measures like making it easier to cast ballots by mail equally increases the number of voters from each political party. So it’s no surprise to see many Republican governors and Secretaries of State reject President Trump’s attempts to fan the flames of fear about election fraud and instead join in calling for pro-voter policies.

This November we must protect our democracy and the integrity of our elections, beginning with ensuring all North Carolina voters and those across the country can exercise their constitutional right to vote.

https://www.newsobserver.com/opinion/article244306682.html#storylink=cpy