The public schools crowd is doing their thing to take advantage of the current crisis, and so — it appears — are the Raleigh politicians and elections officials. Here are some highlights from a memo about the upcoming 2020 general election from the state elections board executive director to all kinds of Raleigh muckety-mucks. (Once again, WE’VE GOT MAIL.)
[…]While the State Board will continue to administer elections in the wake of COVID-19 within our current legal authority, the State Board respectfully recommends the General Assembly consider making the following statutory changes to address the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic on our elections. We believe that, in order to ensure continuity and avoid voter confusion, the changes should be made permanent, except where indicated otherwise.
• Expand options for absentee requests. We recommend allowing a voter to submit an absentee ballot request form by fax and email. Current law restricts the return of the absentee request form to the voter and the voter’s near relative or legal guardian, and restricts the methods by which the requests can be returned to in-person or by mail or designated delivery service. We also recommend a lim-ited exception to G.S. § 163-230.2(e)(2) to allow county boards of elections to pre-fill a voter’s information on an absentee request form. The voter or near rel-ative would still be required to sign the form, but this change would allow voters who are home due to COVID-19 to request an absentee request form by phone and have a pre-filled form sent to them rather than having to travel to the county board office to receive assistance.
• Establish online portal for absentee requests. The State Board expects a large increase in the number of voters who choose to vote absentee by mail this year, and creating an online portal for absentee voting would make it easier for voters to request an absentee ballot from home. The voter or near relative would provide identifying information (including the voter’s date of birth and the last four digits of the voter’s Social Security or drivers license number), and an electronic signa-ture as defined in G.S. § 66-312 of the Uniform Electronic Transaction Act would be permitted. An allocation of funds to purchase a program or application to support this functionality may be needed.
• Allow a voter to include a copy of a HAVA document with their absentee request form if the voter is unable to provide their drivers license number or last four digits of their Social Security number. We recommend allowing a voter who did not include their drivers license number or the last four digits of their Social Security number the option to include a copy of a current utility bill, bank statement, government check, paycheck, or other government document showing the name and address of the voter. Making this change to G.S. § 163-230.2 would make it easier for those who wish to vote absentee by-mail to do so. The State Board has received multiple reports from county boards of elections and from voters that, without this option, some voters are no longer able to request an absentee ballot. This particularly affects senior citizens who may not have a drivers license number and cannot recall or do not have access to their Social Security number. Allowing this option will make it easier for those most at risk of contracting COVID-19 to vote absentee by mail.
• Reduce or eliminate the witness requirement. In light of social distancing re-quirements to prevent the spread of COVID-19, we recommend reducing the wit-ness requirement for the certification on absentee container-return envelopes. Currently, a voter must have their absentee envelope signed by two witnesses or one notary. North Carolina residents are currently being asked to stay at home, and without a timeline for when the disease will be under control, requiring only one witness would reduce the likelihood that a voter would have to go out into the community or invite someone to their home to have their ballot witnessed. Eliminating the witness requirement altogether is another option and would fur-ther reduce the risk.
• Modify procedure for counting of ballots on Election Day. To allow county boards of elections more time to process the anticipated surge in absentee ballots, we recommend amending the law to provide that ballots received by the Saturday prior to the election must be counted on Election Day, and all other absentee bal-lots that are timely received will be counted on the day of the canvass. Currently, G.S. § 163-234(2) requires county boards to meet on Election Day to count all absentee ballots received by 5:00 p.m. on the day before the election. Changing the timeframe for when absentee ballots are counted would help ease the burden of an increased volume of absentee ballots, especially in larger counties. This change would not affect the deadline for the county boards to receive absentee ballots, nor would it affect which ballots are counted; rather, it would ameliorate the anticipated increase in absentee ballots received by county boards between the Saturday before the election and 5:00 p.m. on the day before the election. As part of this change, we also recommend extending county canvass to 14 days after the election, rather than 10 days after the election as provided in G.S. § 163-182.5(b), to allow county boards of elections sufficient time to count the large number of ballots that are anticipated being received; State Board canvass would also need to extended accordingly.
• Temporarily modify restrictions on assistance in care facilities.Currently, G.S. § 163-226.3(a)(4) makes it a Class I felony for an owner, director, manager, or employee of a hospital, clinic, nursing home, or adult care home to assist a voter in that facility in requesting, voting, or returning the voter’s absentee ballot. There are important reasons to discourage facility employees from assisting pa-tients and residents with their absentee requests and with voting their ballots. However, many localities are currently restricting or banning visitors to facilities, and an Executive Order issued by the Governor prevents visitors altogether to reduce the spread of COVID-19. With this in mind, it may not be possible formultipartisan assistance teams (MATs), or others who would traditionally assist facility residents, to provide assistance. Individuals may also be unwilling to serve on MATs due to the increased risk of transmission of COVID-19 at a facil-ity. Many voters in these facilities do require help with requesting, voting, and/or returning their ballots, and with no option available for assistance they may ef-fectively be disenfranchised. We suggest considering options, such as temporar-ily allowing a facility employee to assist, to ensure these voters are able to con-tinue to exercise their right to vote.
• Eliminate requirement that a majority of pollworkers reside in precinct. Eliminating the requirement in G.S. § 163-41(c) that a majority of pollworkers at a polling place must reside in the precinct would provide county boards of elec-tions with greater flexibility to staff their precincts. It would increase the likeli-hood a county board of elections would be able to keep a polling place open rather than having to combine it with another polling place to meet the residency re-quirement.
• Temporarily suspend purchase and contract requirements for elections-re-lated supplies and other items. To allow the State Board and county boards to continue operating in a time when many business and government entities have reduced capacity or have closed, temporarily lifting the purchase and contract requirements of Article 3 of Chapter 143 in 2020 would significantly speed up the ability to procure necessary supplies.
• One-Stop. Consider whether changes to one-stop requirements, such as site and hour requirements, may be needed in light of the uncertainty regarding contain-ment of the COVID-19 pandemic by the early voting period in October 2020. Currently, if any one-stop site is open all one stop-sites must be open and all sites other than the county board office must be open 8:00 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. County boards of elections need flexibility to determine hours because they are affected differently by, and respond differently to, the COVID-19 pandemic.[…]
THIS is a dream come true for the professionalisms haulers and ballot harvesters.
It seems like just yesterday there was all this caterwauling about McCrae Dowless and the 9th congressional district election. (*What’s the latest on that case, by the way?*)