Durham, N.C. — On behalf of Democracy North Carolina, the League of Women Voters of North Carolina and eight individual voters, the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, Fair Elections Center and pro bono counsel from law firm WilmerHale have formally requested that a federal court temporarily amend some of the state’s voting laws to guarantee that North Carolinians can vote safely in November’s general election in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a memo and accompanying witness statements filed this morning in the U.S. Middle District of North Carolina, the plaintiffs in Democracy North Carolina et al vs North Carolina State Board of Elections et al outline the likely chance of a high rate of COVID-19 in October and November and the challenge that could create for both vote-by-mail and in-person voting.
“If this Court does not relax the state’s unconstitutionally burdensome registration and voting requirements for mail-in absentee and in-person voting—relief that the Plaintiffs request solely for the November 2020 general election—Plaintiffs and countless North Carolina voters will not be able to vote in that election, or will have to choose between foregoing this right and risking their health and the health of family members,” the memo states.
The memo also emphasizes the need for quick action, since many of the voter materials required for November’s elections, such as absentee ballots, are typically prepared and printed in June.
Among the specific actions requested by the Plaintiffs are:
● Waiving the requirement that voter registration applications be submitted at least 25 days before the election, changing it instead to the Saturday before.
Making it easier to request and submit an absentee ballot, including waiving the witness requirement and allowing absentee ballots to be requested via phone, email or online.
Creating a process for absentee ballots to be submitted in a manner other than by mail, such as contactless drop boxes where they could be delivered.
Making in-person voting safer, including loosening restrictions on poll worker recruitment, creating greater flexibility in early voting sites and providing personal protective equipment to all precinct workers.
“To guarantee election integrity, we need to make sure all eligible voters have the chance to make their voices heard in November,” said Allison Riggs, Chief Counsel for Voting Rights and Interim Executive Director of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice. “Since the North Carolina General Assembly has failed to act swiftly to address the concerns raised around creating a safe voting environment in November, we are asking the Court to take the action needed. No voter should have to risk their health to cast their ballot, regardless of what manner of voting they choose.”
“Given the dangers posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the time to step up and protect voters is now,” said Fair Elections Center Senior Counsel Jon Sherman. “Making elderly voters and those with compromised immune systems choose between their health and making their voices heard in an election is undemocratic. No matter how a voter chooses to vote, the process should be safe and fair."
LWVNC President Jo Nicholas said: “Local county boards of elections must have as much flexibility as possible to operate as many polling sites as possible in what is expected to be a very challenging early voting environment. Local boards of elections will be scrambling to find locations that offer the space to provide social distancing, not only for voters, but for precinct workers. In addition, it is expected that some sites usually available for voting may become unavailable if the proprietors are uncomfortable giving the public broad access to their facilities. Allowing different sites to be open at different times will give more voters access to safe in-person voting options, reducing the possibility of long lines.”
“The LWVNC recognizes that this will be a unique election and our usual voter education will be under greater constraints. Voters have already communicated to us their concerns and their confusion. In order to effectively undertake our voter education and assistance initiatives, we need the ability now to give voters the information and reassurance that they will be able to vote safely in November. It is crucial for us to convey to our members and the voters in their communities that this most critical election will be handled by our government with the professional confidence that other elections have had in North Carolina, and that their votes will be received at their boards of elections and will be counted.”