Bi-partisan bill aims to make voting amid coronavirus pandemic safer and more accessible

WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — As concerns about the Coronavirus persist, its forcing the North Carolina General Assembly to take a closer look at changes to make voting safer and accessible to voters for the election in November.

House Bill 1169, which has bipartisan support at the NCGA, was introduced last Friday by Representatives Holly Grange of New Hanover County and Destin Hall of Caldwell County.

The nonpartisan group Common Cause NC is closely following the bill in light of the pandemic’s potential impact on voter turnout this fall.

“Obviously, we have an important election with a lot of voter enthusiasm and with the pandemic its all about people being able to cast a ballot without fearing for their own safety,” said Bob Phillips, Executive Director of Common Cause NC.

The bill will make voting from home and by mail easier, and address an impending poll worker shortage.

“We have an elderly population, generally, that mans the precincts on election day and we have to do things to get younger, more diverse poll workers to work the precincts this fall,” he said.

The bill is expected to be passed by the House this Thursday, Phillips said, and then proceed to the Senate sometime next week for debate.

“They really do need to take some action certainly before the middle of next month just because getting the printing of the paper ballots and preparing for the November election starts now,” Phillips said. “Some of the decisions that could be impacted by this legislation need to happen now.”

North Carolina also stands to receive about $12 million from the U.S. Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act but the state has to put up about $2.5 million first. HB1169 also addresses this as well.

“This money will go towards things like helping to sanitize precincts because we will have in-person voting in this election and we want to make sure those precincts are clean so voters won’t have to fear when they go and cast their ballot,” Phillips said.

During the 2016 election, those voting by mail accounted for about 4 percent of voters and this year’s figure is expect to climb up to 40 percent as more voters are likely to prefer not going to their precinct in person due to the pandemic.

“When you have a vote-by-mail increase, you need to make it easy and in North Carolina we require two witnesses to watch someone fill out their ballot and sign it under a penalty of perjury,” Phillips said. “This bill would reduce that requirement from two witnesses to one.”

With many households across the state having two or less adults in one household, Phillips says that’s another reason why these changes need to occur. He says we also need to make it easier to request an absentee ballot by mail.

“The only way you can do it right now is to fill out a state form and send it through snail mail,” he said. “At least with this bill, you could make that request online.”

According to the NCGA website, House Bill 1169 was filed and passed its first reading May 22. Currently, its being reviewed by the Committee on Elections and Ethics Law, Committee on Rules Calendar, and Operations of the House.

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