RALEIGH, N.C. — Karen Brinson Bell, Executive Director of the State Board of Elections, on Friday issued an emergency order that a press release says will protect voters from disease and reduce the likelihood of long lines and crowds at voting sites during the 2020 general election. The order imposes additional requirements on all 100 counties in North Carolina, but the release makes no mention of any financial assistance to help counties cover the additional costs. North Carolina counties were required to have adopted their Fiscal Year 2020-21 budgets by the end of June.

According to the release, the order aims to ensure voters who choose to vote in person have every opportunity to exercise their constitutional right without unnecessary risk to their health during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“If we do not take these measures, we risk much longer lines at voting sites and greater possibility of the spread of the coronavirus,” Brinson Bell said. “These are not acceptable risks in this important election year when we expect turnout to be high.”

The order mandates the following, among other provisions:

  • All county boards of elections must open each early voting site for at least 10 hours on the weekends of October 17-18 and October 24-25.
  • Each county board must open at least one early voting site per 20,000 registered voters in the county. A county board of elections may apply for a waiver if its proposed plan sufficiently serves the voting population, maintains social distancing and reduces the likelihood of long lines.
  • Any county board with only one early voting site must arrange for a backup site and backup staff.
  • County boards may open early voting sites before 8 a.m. and remain open later than 7:30 p.m., provided that the sites (other than the county-board office or in-lieu-of site, if only open regular business hours) are all open at the same time.
  • All county boards must take significant precautions to protect voters and poll workers from the spread of disease. These safeguards include: providing for social distancing at voting sites, including barriers between elections officials and voters at check-in; frequently sanitizing common surfaces, including voting booths; providing single-use pens to mark paper ballots or cotton swabs for ballot-marking devices; requiring elections officials to wear face coverings and making masks available to voters who do not bring their own. Voters are not required to wear masks while voting.

County boards of elections that already submitted unanimous early voting plans to the State Board must reconsider their plans and resubmit them in light of this executive order or apply for a waiver.

North Carolina voters will have all voting options available to them in the 2020 election: absentee by-mail, in-person early voting and Election Day voting.

“This order gives more opportunity to voters this year, assuring they can cast their ballot at a time and in a manner that is most comfortable for them,” Brinson Bell said. “This order is the right thing to do because no North Carolinian should fear exposure to disease when they cast their ballot.”

State law and administrative rules authorize the executive director to exercise emergency powers to conduct an election where the normal schedule is disrupted by a catastrophe arising from natural causes. After consultation with State Board members, Brinson Bell determined the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the election and necessitates that she exercise the emergency powers outlined in the order. 

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