AARP is concerned about the impact of COVID-19 and voter participation in Election 2020. AARP sent this letter to leaders of the North Carolina General Assembly.
Thank you for your hard work in helping our state respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. On behalf of our 1.1 million members, their families and older adults in North Carolina that are rightfully concerned about maintaining social distance, we recommend that the legislature take any action needed to help voters keep themselves safe, while still exercising their right to vote.
According to U.S. Census Bureau data for the 2016 presidential election, 71 percent of Americans over the age of 65 voted. Moreover, people over the age of 65 show up to the polls far more than any other age group. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that people over 60 years of age, and those with serious health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and lung disease are at highest risk for severe disease and death from coronavirus-related illness. Risk of serious illness and death increases with age, with the highest risk of death among people over the age of 80.
Residents of a portion of our state are scheduled to go to the polls on June 23rd for a primary election runoff. All residents of North Carolina are scheduled to vote on November 3rd . While we would all hope that this crisis would have abated by then, it’s prudent for North Carolina to be prepared to conduct an election that will be at least somewhat affected by the need for voters to continue to engage in social distancing practices – practices which are incompatible with standing in long lines to vote. In order to protect North Carolina’s voters, not to mention election officials who staff polling locations, we believe North Carolina should begin efforts now to develop alternative means for voters to cast their ballot that do not require them to physically go to a polling station, before it is too late.
One way to do that would be to have the state mail all registered North Carolina voters an absentee ballot – without requiring the voter to make an absentee ballot request. Going completely to vote-by-mail elections in this manner would have the state prepared no matter what is happening this fall and would avoid the issue of putting poll workers and voters at risk.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), five states conduct all elections entirely by mail now (Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington State, and Utah). At least another 21 allow voting to take place by mail in some elections. In these “vote-by-mail” elections, all registered voters would receive a ballot in the mail. After they mark their selections they put their ballot in what is known as a secrecy envelope, put that in a separate mailing envelope, and return the ballot by mail or by dropping it off at a designated location. The voter may also be required to sign an affidavit on the outside of the mailing envelope regarding their identity. This last provision would allow the state to eliminate or ease the provision that requires an absentee ballot be signed by two witnesses or a notary, which could be difficult, if not impossible, for most voters under the current circumstances.
According to NCSL, there are reports that vote-by-mail elections increase turnout. They can also lead to long-term cost savings to the state through decreased staffing expenditures – though there are increased printing and up front equipment costs. More importantly, in the midst of a health crisis, it enables voters and election workers to feel safe by not requiring them to go out to participate.
Using an all vote-by-mail system for this year’s elections would require the state to be prepared to print, distribute, collect, and count more absentee ballots than would traditionally be expected in presidential election years. We believe it would also require the state to conduct additional outreach and education to ensure that voters know that this is an option, including providing easy-to-access points of entry to request absentee ballots.
Should North Carolina choose to expand absentee voting to, in effect, go to an all vote-by-mail system for this year’s elections, we request expanding the use of Multipartisan Assistance Teams (MATs). Currently the teams are run by each County Board of Elections to assist those in facilities such as nursing homes, hospitals, and assisted living facilities request and submit absentee ballots. We believe the role of MATs could be expanded to assist anyone outside of facilities who doesn’t have a near relative of legal guardian and needs assistance with submitting a ballot. Expansion of MATs would require both government and community outreach and education.
Again, thank you for your service to our great State and your prompt attention to this matter during such an unprecedented time.
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This story is provided by AARP North Carolina. Visit the AARP North Carolina page for more news, events, and programs affecting retirement, health care, and more.
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