Editorial: Act now on critical election needs to assure full voting in November

Posted May 12, 2020 5:00 a.m. EDT

CBC Editorial: Monday, May 11, 2020; Editorial #8539
The following is the opinion of Capitol Broadcasting Company.

No one knows what the COVID-19 pandemic situation in North Carolina and the nation will be six months from now.

But we do know that in six months, no matter what else might likely intervene, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020 will be Election Day.

Now is the time to make sure that everything possible is done and in place so that every eligible North Carolinian who wants to vote will have the opportunity, whether by voting early, voting by mail or casting ballots in person on Election Day.

Even before voting starts, those who are eligible to vote but are not registered need to have plenty of opportunities to sign up.

And when voting begins, it needs to be available, accessible and safe for voters and those who are working at polling places.

Gov. Roy Cooper and the General Assembly need to put policies and procedures into place as soon as possible. Elections officials and polling place workers – not to mention voters – should have time to plan and prepare so our elections proceed as normally and securely as possible.

There have been plenty of opportunities to see what can go wrong. The debacle in the conduct of the Wisconsin primary a month ago provides plenty of lessons. It is no mystery what needs to be done to avoid a repeat – and North Carolina’s election officials are being proactive.

Our State Board of Elections is fortunate to have members who, while holding to competing political affiliations are united in their desire do all they can to get as many people as possible to vote. They have worked together to anticipate concerns and needs and supported the board’s professional staff.

Elections Board Executive Director Karen Brinson Bell seized the initiative – convening a working group of state and local elections officials to review the current situation and make recommendations for the proper conduct of voter registration and other election and voting related issues. That group provided a series of common-sense recommendations that Brinson Bell used to shape her proposals to the legislature.

North Carolina is due $22.6 million in federal funding for election technology, security and COVID-19 safety as well as other voting related needs. But the state must come up with about $4.4 million to match. In one of the legislature’s recently passed COVID-19 response bills, it specifically prevents the state board from using any of its own funds for the match. The legislature needs to either quickly appropriate the matching funds or give the elections board a way to access those federal funds.

The additional money is critical. It will help assure our polling places are safe, voters have several ways to cast ballots and as many voters as possible participate in our democracy. It shouldn’t be a matter of partisan bickering or shenanigans. We need to do this quickly so the necessary planning and procedures can be in place.

Further, the legislature needs to act to give local boards more flexibility to assign poll workers and set up polling places for appropriate “social distancing.”

Brinson Bell outlined a series of common-sense recommendations in a March 26 letter to the governor and leaders of the General Assembly. The recommendations were reviewed by the state board members – Republicans and Democrats – and submitted to the legislature without any objections.

The General Assembly needs to quickly enact those proposals.

Match federal funding, make early voting plentiful and accessible; expand opportunities to vote by mail and allow additional flexibility for ballot processing and polling place workers.

We must be doing everything possible now so that in six short months every qualified voter has an easy opportunity to cast a ballot, regardless of the challenges COVID-19 presents.

It is not too much to ask. It needs to be done now.

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