COVID-19, Defending Democracy, News

Emergency order issued by State Board of Elections for fall election; watchdog group says more action needed

The State Board of elections issued a detailed, eight page emergency order today to deal with administering the 2020 election during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Click here to read the order.

Travis Fain of reported this summary:

The order requires at least one early voting location per 20,000 registered voters. That may mean a dramatic uptick in voting locations open in the weeks before the Nov. 3 election, though county boards of election can apply for waivers if they can serve voters with fewer locations without causing long lines, the order states.

The order requires election officials to wear face coverings, and it says counties must make masks available to voters who don’t bring their own. It does not require voters to wear masks.

The order also calls for frequent cleaning, backup plans if voting locations must close and social distancing, including ‘appropriate markings and providing appropriate barriers, including barriers between elections officials and voters at check-in.’

…The order also requires county boards of election to open early voting sites for at least 10 hours on the weekends of October 17-18 and October 24-25. The order allows for earlier open times and later closing times than in normal years, saying sites can open before 8 a.m. and close after 7:30 p.m.

A county’s early voting sites would generally have to have uniform hours, though, keeping to a legislative edict the General Assembly passed into law in recent years.”

The government watchdog group Democracy North Carolina, which has championed strong action to assure access to the ballot this fall, was unsatisfied with the order and issued the following statement:

“The order comes nearly two months after Democracy North Carolina and other plaintiffs filed a lawsuit against the State Board of Elections demanding North Carolina take the necessary steps to guarantee a fair, safe election in November, given the likelihood that the state and the country will still be experiencing the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Democracy North Carolina’s Advocacy Director Alissa Ellis responded to the order, saying the ‘measures fall far short of what is necessary’ to protect voters this fall.

‘Today’s emergency action by the State Board of Elections to expand Early Voting options, in addition to other safeguards, acknowledges what we’ve known for some time: to keep in-person voting safe amid the uncertain COVID-19 crisis, we’ll need to increase access to North Carolina’s Early Voting options and, in doing so, help avoid long lines and allow for safer social distancing at the polls,’ said Ellis. ‘However, these measures fall far short of what is necessary, and we encourage the State Board and Legislature to take further efforts to make voting safe and accessible to all voters during this pandemic, including expanding voter registration opportunities, easing assistance restrictions for absentee ballots, allowing county boards more flexibility in the hours they offer voters for early voting, and guaranteeing PPE and ballot drop boxes for voters. With voting only months away, now the immediate work must turn to helping North Carolina’s counties facilitate these important changes and educating voters about these and other options to vote more safely this fall.'”

Look for additional coverage of this developing story from Policy Watch in the coming days.

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