Managing Coronavirus in 2020
State House members took important steps to help the state elections board prepare for a likely increase in absentee voting. While 4 to 5 percent of voters typically vote absentee by mail, North Carolina elections officials estimated we could see that number rise to 30 or 40 percent.
In response, legislators rightly amended a bill to provide oversight of absentee ballots and address possible voter fraud in the Senate Redistricting and Elections Committee. HB 1169 passed on May 28th, with a vote of 116-3 in favor.
Under House Bill 1169, North Carolina would make it easier to vote by mail during the coronavirus pandemic. It would ban all-mail elections and prevent the State Board of Elections from sending unrequested or unsolicited absentee ballots to voters. “Ballot harvesting is not some theoretical, might have happened, whatever else. Someone needs to look into that, and that someone is the Board of Elections,” said Sen. Ralph Hise.
The amended bill further requires counties to report overvotes and undervotes in their areas, and to provide an explanation to the State Board of Elections for failure to submit such information. HB 1169 also requires the elections board to investigate computer networks that made more than 10 requests for absentee ballots based on IP addresses. These are important, helpful updates to existing procedures.
Lastly, the coronavirus created concerns about voters’ ability to satisfy the number of witnesses required to cast a mail-in ballot. HB 1169 reduces the number of required witnesses to cast absentee ballots from two to one. But it would require the witness to provide a printed name and an address to aid in voter fraud protections. The change in witness requirements would apply for the duration of the pandemic, but some lawmakers suggested they could become permanent. “You only get one signature, but you actually know whose signature it is,” said Rep. David Lewis.
Legislators hoped to increase oversight aimed at online absentee ballot harvesting and fraud protections. The proposed amendments were passed as a result. The amended bill will head to the Senate and Appropriations and Base Budget Committee.