Add November’s election to the list of things that will likely be very different from anything we’ve known before.
Maybe things will improve in the next five months. Maybe everything will be back to normal, and people won’t mind standing in lines or be nervous about working at the polls.
But we can’t count on that — not with repeated warnings that COVID-19 is not simply going away, and that new waves of infection — maybe worse than this one — are probably coming.
Many people are going to be afraid to go to the polls.
Every election is important. The one coming up in November — with the president, governor of North Carolina, one of our U.S. Senate seats and many other offices on the ballot — is especially crucial.
State officials can’t afford to wait until fall to figure out how to help voters take part in the election without going to the polls in person.
One of the easiest ways to do that will be to expand a possibility that already exists — voting by mail.
Expanded voting by mail would be so easy and effective, in fact, that the prospect seems to be frightening Republicans in North Carolina and in Washington.
It’s no secret that Republicans believe that large voter turnouts, including many minorities, are bad for their candidates. Some have said so in public. Republicans have become a minority party that holds onto power in part by gerrymandering and voter suppression.
President Trump doesn’t want people to vote by mail. He’s pronounced mail-in ballots “a very dangerous thing” used by “cheaters” — even though he voted absentee by mail in the Florida primary last month and in New York in 2018.
Many Republicans suggest that abuse of absentee and mail-in voting is mainly something Democrats do. North Carolinians know differently. The most glaring recent example was a Republican political consultant working for Republican candidate Mark Harris in 2018 in our 9th Congressional District. Allegations of fraud caused the results of that election to be thrown out.
North Carolina already has no-excuse absentee voting. Registered voters can request and receive a mail-in absentee ballot, without having to prove need. Those serving in the military also mail their ballots.
But the system is cumbersome, and some voters have filed suit to make it smoother. One change would have the state send out absentee ballots with prepaid postage. Another would change the requirement for two witnesses to sign a ballot. The state board of elections already has called for those two changes.
Predictably, Phil Berger, the Republican state Senate leader, decried the requests as attempts at voter fraud. The legislature did not act on any proposed election changes in its recent session.
The state board of elections has also called for other changes, including making Election Day a state holiday, as Virginia has done.
North Carolina should lose no more time in preparing for November by making needed changes and finding the money to pay for them.
Our democracy is stronger if all citizens can vote, so that the government truly is representative. People should not have to fear that they are putting their lives on the line to cast their votes.