North Carolina House members voted 116-3 today to pass a bipartisan COVID-19 elections bill.
All three “no” votes on House Bill 1169 came from Democratic representatives. The roll call transcript of the votes is not yet posted online, but Rep. Amos Quick III (D-Guilford), Rep. Derwin Montgomery (D-Forsyth) and Rep. Raymond Smith Jr. (D-Sampson, Wayne) appeared to vote “no” via the roll call board posted on social media.
HB 1169 is intended to make the 2020 election more accessible to voters and safer for those who choose to cast a ballot in person. The main features of the measure include:
- altering the requirements for absentee, voting-by-mail so that only one witness would be required, although the witness would now be required to provide their printed name and address;
- allowing poll workers to staff voting sites outside their own precinct;
- allowing voters to request blank absentee ballots by mail, email, fax or online portal.
The bill also allocates funding to the state and county boards of elections to help them administer the election amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Some Democrats and voting rights advocates have criticized the bill for not going far enough to protect the voting rights, particularly for people of color, who are bearing the greatest burden from COVID-19 and who are the most disenfranchised when it comes to voting in North Carolina.
A major sticking point in the measure for House Democrats, even those who voted in favor of the bill, was a provision that would add an acceptable voter photo ID in the event a state and federal court rescind their preliminary injunctions halting the potentially discriminatory law.
Rep. Zack Hawkins (D-Durham) voted in favor of HB 1169 but also scolded his colleagues during the floor discussion for injecting voter ID into a bill that was supposed to be “above board” to help North Carolinians in a crisis.
Other Democratic members acknowledged the measure was good, despite failing to address several requests from the State Board of Elections. Those included prepaid postage for absentee by-mail ballots and the declaration of Election Day as a holiday to allow more people to participate.
“Is it perfect? No,” said Rep. Allison Dahle (D-Wake), who was one of the primary sponsors of the bill. “Is it everything we dreamed of? No. Is it better for the people of North Carolina? Yes.”
The bill will now move to the Senate for approval. There are still at least three lawsuits in state and federal courts pending over North Carolina’s absentee ballot accessibility.