Counties were selected based on a number of factors including the number of registered voters, the growth in voting population and if the county had a known history of voter suppression or election irregularities. Each letter provides the county with important research on local voting patterns and suggestions for improving the voter experience.
“We recognize that the challenge that faces you and your staff—conducting a safe and fully participatory election during a global pandemic—is one of the greatest magnitude, and we want to help you confront that challenge with as many resources and as much support as possible,” the letter says.
With counties facing expected revenue declines due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many boards of elections are facing steep budget cuts and other challenges that could impact voting options. This comes as North Carolina election officials predict a significant increase in absentee voting this November, with as many as 40% of ballots being cast by mail — 10 times the amount requested in the last presidential cycle. Voting rights advocates, including the Southern Coalition for Social Justice and Democracy NC, are also asking counties to provide robust early voting opportunities — including substantial hours and plentiful sites — to avoid long lines and encourage social distancing to keep voters and poll workers safe.
“While a lot of attention has been given to the need to increase access to voting by mail, we know that in North Carolina the majority of voters are still going to cast a ballot in person,” said Allison Riggs, Chief Counsel for Voting Rights and Interim Director of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice. “With many experts predicting another surge of COVID-19 in October and November, it is critical that counties provide the funding necessary to maintain or expand early voting opportunities.”
Based on data from the 2016 and 2018 elections, the letters provide county election officials with specific recommendations on prioritizing early voting locations and days based on historic usage rates, both for the general voting population and for voters of color.
North Carolina law currently places restrictions on where and when early voting can take place, such as requiring that all the sites in a county have uniform hours regardless of usage. In addition to providing recommendations this week to improve voting options key counties, Democracy North Carolina and other organizations, represented by the Southern Coalition for Social Justice and others, also filed a lawsuit in May challenging this and other voting requirements for the 2020 general election in hopes of providing counties with greater flexibility to meet the needs of voters. The case is expected to be heard this summer.
“Without a variety of voting options this November, North Carolinians may have to decide between exercising their constitutional right to vote and their health,” said Tomas Lopez, Executive Director of Democracy North Carolina. “The goal of both our lawsuit and this outreach to counties is to provide a number of options for casting their ballots to ensure every registered voter has the opportunity to have their voice heard.”