Bipartisan election reform bill is a fine first step

In a rebuke to the nonsensical rants and kooky conspiracy theories promoted by President Trump, Republicans in North Carolina have, to their credit, recently joined with Democrats to introduce bipartisan election reform legislation.

House Bill 1169 contains many provisions requested by the State Board of Elections and voting rights advocates to help the state prepare for conducting an election during the COVID-19 pandemic:

 

  • reduce the requirement for absentee mail-in ballots from two witnesses to one;
  • give counties greater flexibility as to where they assign poll workers;
  • allow voters to submit an absentee ballot request form via email, an online portal, and fax, — as well as the current methods — by mail or in person; and
  • draw down and allocate federal dollars to support election administration during the pandemic.

An on-the-money Capitol Broadcasting Company editorial on WRAL.com put it this way:

The legislation will make it less cumbersome to cast ballots by mail – an option many voters may choose who have health concerns amid this COVID-19 pandemic. Typically, about 5% of ballots are cast by mail. Election officials say that might surge to as much as 40% this year. “It’s been a long time since we’ve had a bipartisan elections bill,” said state Rep. Pricey Harrison, D-Guilford, a key architect of the elections package. “It seems to be a really good basis for protecting the 2020 election.”

Rep. Holly Grange, R-New Hanover, a co-chair of the House Elections Committee and a sponsor of the bill, said it will give election officials on the local and state level “the flexibility and resources needed to accommodate the expected increase in absentee ballot requests due to the pandemic.”

The bill still needs improvement, but as Bob Phillips of the good government group Common Cause observed, it is “a positive step toward ensuring every eligible North Carolina voter is able to safely and securely cast a ballot in this year’s elections.”

The sponsors from both political parties deserve our thanks. Let’s hope the bill moves swiftly and productively through the General Assembly.

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