Reasonable accommodations must be made to support voters during the COVID-19 pandemic
GREENSBORO—Late Friday, the League of Women Voters of North Carolina filed a federal lawsuit challenging several of the state’s registration and voting requirements, including the witness requirement for absentee ballot signatures, limited registration period for new voters, and the lack of safe accommodations for in-person polling places. With the likelihood that the COVID-19 pandemic will continue through November, North Carolina voters’ health and voting rights are endangered without changes to these voting conditions.
“Under the current system, North Carolina voters will be making some tough decisions in November, not just on who to vote for, but determining if they are personally willing to risk their health to cast their ballot at all," said Jo Nicholas, president of the League of Women Voters of North Carolina. “The League of Women Voters remains committed to ensuring every eligible individual has access to safely cast their vote in an efficient manner.”
North Carolina election code and registration practices can be altered with reasonable accommodations that make registering and voting easier and safer during this public health crisis, but election officials have failed to act. The League and its partners are asking the Court to take the following actions:
Waive the requirement that voter registration applications be submitted at least 25 days before the election.
Make 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.
Create a process for absentee ballots to be submitted in a manner other than by mail, such as contactless drop boxes.
Make 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.
“It is unfortunate that states like North Carolina continue to be the poster child of what it looks like not to act in the best interest of voters during an election,” said Chris Carson, president of the board of directors of the League of Women Voters of the United States. “Our country is still in the throes of a global pandemic, and voters must have options to safely cast a ballot this year.”
The League of Women Voters is joined in this case by Democracy North Carolina as well as individual plaintiffs Donna Permar, John P. Clark, Margaret Cates, Lelia Bentley, Regina Whitney Edwards, and Robert K. Priddy Jr. The plaintiffs are represented by Southern Coalition for Social Justice, Fair Elections Center, and WilmerHale.
“Under the current law, North Carolina’s elections are not designed to facilitate safe voting during a public health crisis, and the General Assembly has failed to promptly address the situation,” said Allison Riggs, chief voting rights counsel and interim director of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice. “While November may still seem like it’s a long way off, we do not have time to wait. Action must be taken immediately or North Carolina voters will be forced to choose between their health and exercising their constitutionally protected right to vote.”
“North Carolina is unprepared to hold a presidential election during a pandemic, as the State Board of Elections' repeated pleas to the Legislature have revealed,” said Jon Sherman, Fair Elections Center senior counsel. “The state is sorely lacking in vital safeguards and precautions for both mail-in and in-person voters to safely cast a ballot. With an expected ten-fold increase in absentee ballots this fall and fast-approaching deadlines for printing those ballots, there is zero time to waste.”
Contact: Kayla Vix | 202-809-9668 | [email protected]
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Today the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin filed litigation in federal court seeking to protect the rights of self-quarantining voters who cannot safely obtain a witness signature on their mail-in ballot during the COVID-19 pandemic.
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The Virginia attorney general and the League of Women Voters of Virginia reached an agreement in League of Women Voters, et al. v. Virginia State Board of Elections, to remove the witness requirement for signatures on absentee ballots.