Commentary, Defending Democracy

Pass it on: Now is the time to sign up to help at the polls

Image: NC State Board of Elections

The good people at the group Higher Ed Works published the following call to action last week that they directed at college graduates. The truth, however, is that the plea is applicable to all healthy North Carolinians, regardless of whether they attended college or not.

Please share the message with friends and family members ASAP.

We often hear that college graduates show greater civic engagement (see also here and here). Well they have an opportunity to do just that approaching.

Across North Carolina and beyond, local election boards are viewing this year’s election with trepidation. Many – if not most – poll workers are 70 or older and understandably reluctant to spend 16 hours on Election Day speaking with relative strangers in the midst of a global pandemic.

Those voters might or might not wear masks or practice proper social distancing. So older poll workers’ apprehensions are well-advised.

But if college graduates are indeed more civically engaged, now is precisely the time for young graduates to step up and do a public service by making sure the mechanics of our democracy work properly.

Election officials operate the polls during early voting and Election Day. They set up voting equipment, check in voters, process ballots, help voters with special needs, and secure the site at the end of the day. Normally, an election worker must be a registered voter who lives in the precinct. But because of special demands this year, the State Board of Elections says some poll workers can work outside their home precinct.

This requires modest training. The time to act is now – not a week before Election Day.

So university alumni associations, please encourage young graduates to show they want our democracy to work right amid the massive disruption of COVID-19. And younger alumni, please contact your county board of elections to ask how you can help, or fill out this form for the State Board of Elections.

In the midst of a pandemic, it might be more important than ever.

Defending Democracy

Can’t wait to vote? Getting an absentee ballot just got a whole lot easier.

The State Board of Elections launched the Absentee Ballot Request Portal this week, allowing North Carolina voters to request ballots online.

In collaboration with Democracy Live, the State Board introduced the portal Monday to assist any registered voter in our state in requesting an absentee ballot.

“At the State Board, our goal is to ensure all voters can cast a ballot, whether in person or by mail,” said Karen Brinson Bell, executive director of the State Board of Elections in a press release. “The Absentee Ballot Request Portal will streamline voting by mail for voters who choose this voting option.”

The portal is also designed to help avoid duplicate requests and will inform voters of existing absentee requests.

The voter’s county board of elections will mail the ballot to the voter.

This new tool also allows military or overseas voters to securely request and return their ballots through the portal.

North Carolinians not registered to vote will be provided a link to learn more about how to register.

The deadline to request your absentee ballot is October 27th, but election officials advise against procrastinating.

As of Monday, the State Board reported more than 560,000 requests for absentee ballots.

Prefer to vote in person? Early voting begins in 43 days on October 15th. Election Day is Tuesday, November 3rd.

For more on election security and precautions during the pandemic, listen to our recent radio interview with State Board of Elections Executive Director Karen Brinson Bell.

Screen shot of the Absentee Ballot Request Portal. Visit: https://votebymail.ncsbe.gov/app/home

Commentary, Defending Democracy

Voting expert: What you need to know about the fall election (and how you can help)

Image: Adobe Stock

Confused about the rules for voting in North Carolina in 2020? Join the club! During the 20 years I’ve been helping citizens vote, I have never experienced this much fear and confusion about the basic rules for voting and election safety and integrity.

With the 2020 election three months away, new rules for voting in North Carolina, anxieties over COVID-19, and foreign interference disrupting the election, voters are rightly concerned about making their ballot count.

However, by educating yourself and others, as well as getting involved with voter registration drives and and staffing our polling places, we can ensure that our elections will be both secure and accessible for all eligible North Carolina voters.

There are four requirements to register and vote in North Carolina:

  • be a U.S. citizen;
  • be 16 years old to pre-register and be 18 years old by Election Day;
  • live at your residence for at least 30 days before Election Day, which is Nov. 3, 2020;
  • not be currently serving a felony sentence or still being on probation or parole for a felony.

And here are some key dates:

  • Election Day is Nov. 3
  • Absentee ballot request forms for the election are due Oct. 27, but we recommend registered voters request their absentee ballot as soon as possible. Request forms and steps for submission are available here.
  • You must be registered by Oct. 9 if you plan to vote either in person or by absentee ballot. Otherwise, you can go to an early voting site and register in person and vote in person.
  • Early Voting is from Oct. 15-31, 2020.

Want to do more to preserve and protect democracy?

Empower yourself and others by attending a virtual #Vote2020 Training provided by You Can Vote. Learn up-to-date voting rules and common misconceptions. Remember, Photo ID is not required to vote in 2020. We’ll share our best practices for educating and registering voters and what to bring if you wish to register and vote during the Early Voting period.

Become a Voting Rights Champion. Voters must be registered and have the most up-to-date voting rules to make their vote count. However, COVID-19 halted traditional in-person education and registration activities. In a year when civic organizations should be breaking records in the number of voter registrations, new registrations across North Carolina have plummeted.

You Can Vote’s new Voting Rights Champions program is designed to help you and your organization safely provide verified, bilingual, easy-to-read information to help voters cast their ballot successfully in 2020. You Can Vote will provide free training, materials and support for nonpartisan organizations.

Become a poll worker.  North Carolina will face a critical shortage of poll workers since the average age of a North Carolina poll worker is 60 and older. Since COVID-19 is disproportionately affecting older individuals, many are choosing not to return. We need younger, healthier individuals to step up and join the North Carolina Board of Election’s  Democracy Heroes program and help work the election. Democracy Heroes will be provided PPE for protection.

We must work together to protect our democracy and the integrity of our elections, beginning with ensuring all voters understand the rules and requirements of voting and can exercise their constitutional right to vote.

Kate Fellman is the founder and director of You Can Vote, a nonprofit, nonpartisan 501(c)(3) organization that educates, registers and empowers citizens to cast their vote. Based in North Carolina, this volunteer and community-driven group provides effective volunteer training and trusted nonpartisan election information to hundreds of partner organizations and agencies across the state.

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 WRAL.com 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.

Courts & the Law, COVID-19, Defending Democracy, News

WATCH: Chief Justice Beasley delivers virtual State of the Judiciary address

N.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley delivered the 2020 State of the Judiciary address Friday online.

Chief Justice Cheri Beasley virtually delivered the 2020 State of the Judiciary address today during the North Carolina Bar Association’s Annual Meeting.

The meeting was held online to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Beasley’s address focused on the judicial branch’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the modernization of the courts through the eCourts initiative and a commitment to access to justice, fairness and impartiality.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has presented challenges that the modern judiciary and our courts have never before faced, and calls for racial justice have gripped the nation’s attention,” Beasley said. “But challenging times also present opportunities. COVID-19 has required us to think creatively about improving the administration of justice in ways that even a year ago seemed impossible. The demonstrations happening in North Carolina and across the nation have given us the opportunity to confront disparities in our justice system and ensure that the people of this state have trust and confidence that courts are a place where every case is decided based on principles of law and justice free from bias.

“And so, while this is truly an unprecedented and stressful time for our entire Judicial Branch and for the Bar, it is also an immensely hopeful time.”

Beasley is the North Carolina Supreme Court’s first Black female Chief Justice. She was appointed to the helm by Gov. Roy Cooper over a year ago after former Chief Justice Mark Martin resigned. Watch her full address below.