Coronavirus rescue bill includes $400 million in election assistance

Madeline Gray | North State Journal

RALEIGH – Details of the 883-page Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act include a large expansion of funds for the 2020 federal election cycle. The U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) was allocated $400 million in grants. The EAC has already issued guidance on Help America Vote Act (HAVA) funds relating to expenses for COVID-19. Included in that guidance is an expectation that absentee and mail-in ballots will be used a higher than average rate in 2020 elections. States must go through a grant process to receive these funds.

Earlier in March, NSJ detailed a lawsuit filed by Marc Elias and left-leaning organizations to overturn a law passed by the General Assembly and signed by Gov. Roy Cooper in response to the ninth Congressional district ballot harvesting scandal. The law restricted who could apply and complete absentee ballot request forms and instituted criminal penalties. 

If that law is overturned, North Carolina elections could see usage of ballot harvesting measures such as those used in the 2018 election scandal as well as states such as California.

States must apply for the new HAVA funds included in the CARES Act once it is signed into law. Previously, a request was made on January 27, 2020 by the North Carolina State Board of Elections for $11.6 million. 

SBOE executive director Karen Brinson Bell on Wednesday released a list of recommendations by a board of elections task force in anticipation of expanded absentee by-mail usage. Among the task force recommendations are allowing voters to submit request forms by fax and email, establishing an online portal for request forms, and allowing a voter who did not include their drivers license number or the last four digits of their Social Security number the option to include a copy of a current utility bill, bank statement, paycheck, or other government document showing their name and address.

Other changes recommended include making election day a state holiday, allowing care facility employees to help complete ballots, and eliminating a rule requiring a majority of pollworkers to reside in their designated precinct. The task force also recommends making those changes permanent. The General Assembly would have to pass legislation for any of those changes to occur. 

“We believe the legislative recommendations released today would go a long way toward ensuring safe, accessible elections in 2020,” Brinson Bell said. “We look forward to continuing to work with the General Assembly to respond to the unprecedented threat facing our elections system at this time.”