Bill Summaries: S 861 ELECTION PROTECTION DURING COVID-19 EMERGENCY.

Tracking:
  • Summary date: May 28 2020 - More information

    Part I

    Sets forth the act's purpose and defined terms. Defines COVID-19 emergency to mean the period beginning March 10, 2020, and ending on the date the Governor rescinds Executive Order No. 116.

    Part II

    Appropriates $10,987,295 in federal CARES Act funds and $2,120,497 required match from the State General Fund to the State Board of Elections (State Board) for the 2019-20 fiscal year to respond to the COVID-19 emergency for the 2020 federal election cycle. Provides a nonexclusive list of five purposes for which funds can by used, including establishing healthy polling places and establishing an online portion for absentee ballot requests. Provides for unspent funds to carry forward to the 2020-21 fiscal year and appropriates the funds for the purposes set forth in the act.

    Appropriates $11,677,441 from the federal Help America Vote Act (HAVA) funds and $2,335,488 as the required match from the State General Fund to the State Board for the 2019-20 fiscal year to improve election administration. Allows for part of the federal HAVA funds to be used for COVID-19 response for the election if the funds appropriated for that purpose are insufficient. Provides for unspent funds to carry forward to the 2020-21 fiscal year and appropriates the funds for the purposes set forth in the act. Requires reversion of unspent funds on June 30, 2021, to the State Board, and requires the funds to remain until legislative appropriated. 

    Part III

    Provides for the following provisions regarding 2020 elections.

    Authorizes county boards of elections to vote to eliminate the requirement for the majority of the chief judge and judges, and majority of the precinct assistants, to reside in the precinct, so long as the vote is unanimous and the individuals are otherwise qualified to vote in the county.

    Authorizes county boards to vote to allow students 16 years old or older to serve as chief judge, judges, or precinct assistants, so long as the vote is unanimous. Does not require principal recommendation if the student's school is closed due to the COVID-19 emergency at the time of appointment. Provides for the student to gain school field trip credit for working. Maintains the political party recommendation procedure for chief judge and judge appointments.

    Allows county boards to use temporary staffing agencies and establish an online recruitment portal for poll workers.

    Requires the minimum pay for poll workers to be a competitive rate set by the county board.

    Bars unemployment benefits from being affected by an individual working as a poll worker while receiving benefits.

    Requires the State Board and county boards to collaborate to ensure the safety of poll workers and polling places by (1) providing personal protective equipment and supplies, (2) establishing curbside or drive-through voting options for certain persons, (3) providing for crowd management and compliance with social distancing guidelines, and (4) allowing county boards to unanimously vote to adopt a Plan for Implementation that deviates from standard one-stop sites and hours.

    Requires election day to be a paid State holiday for purposes of State employment and the public school calendar. Encourages private employers to treat election day as a paid day off. Applies to the 2020 general election only.

    Bars implementation of the photo identification requirement.

    Applies to elections held on or after the date the act becomes law and expires upon certification of the 2020 general election.

    Part IV

    Allows completed written requests for absentee ballots for the 2020 election to be delivered in person or by mail, email, or fax to the county board by the voter, the voter's near relative or verifiable legal guardian, or any trained and authorized multipartisan team member. Further provides for the validity of returned completed requests.

    Amends GS 163-230.2, as amended, to specify that the State Board is responsible for making blank request forms available at its offices, online, and at county board offices. Adds a new provision to allow voters to call a county board office and request that the blank request form be sent to the voter by mail, e-mail, or fax.

    Enacts GS 163-230.3 to establish an alternative, online method for absentee ballots requests rather than the completed written request form, with all other absentee ballot requirements remaining applicable. Requires the State Board to establish a secure website to permit qualified voters eligible to vote by absentee ballot, or that voter's near relative or verifiable legal guardian, to submit an online request for absentee ballots. Requires the website to be able to track the IP address of anyone who accesses the website, and requires the website to require requests to include all information required for a valid written request under state law and an electronic signature of the voter, or the voter's near relative or verifiable legal guardian, if requesting on behalf of the voter. Requires the State Board to submit online requests received to the respective county board, and requires the county boards to process the online request in the same manner as completed written requests.

    Specifies that the State Board is not required to comply with the initial purchase and contract requirements under GS Chapter 143 for establishing or securing a website for online requests. Sunsets this exemption on December 31, 2020.

    Requires the State Board to have the secure website available to voters to submit an online request by September 1, 2020.

    For 2020 elections, allows for a voter to satisfy the certification requirement for an absentee ballot by completing the voter's absentee ballot in the presence of one witness. Further, if no witness is available, allows the voter to instead attest on the container-return envelope to the need for use of the signature verification option. Directs the State Board to adopt emergency rules to ensure the integrity of the signature verification and proper signature matching when the latter option is used.

    For 2020 elections, directs the State Board to adopt emergency rules establishing a uniform, statewide protocol to address an absentee ballot that is incomplete or illegible, including a means to ensure that all reasonable steps are taken to cure such a ballot when possible.

    For 2020 elections, allows voters to include a copy of a current utility bill, bank statement, government check, paycheck, or other government document showing the name and address of the voter as an alternative to meeting the drivers license or social security number requirements for requesting an absentee ballot.

    Requires county boards to provide all valid absentee ballot requests for 2020 elections with prepaid postage for returning the executed absentee ballot.

    Allows county boards flexibility for ballot counting procedures for 2020 elections, so long as ballots received by the Saturday before the election are counted on or by election day and all other absentee ballots timely received are counted on the day of the canvass.

    For 2020 elections, provides for trained and certified employees of hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, or rest homes to assist a registered voter who is a patient or resident in the facility in requesting, voting, or returning the voter's absentee ballot in the event the voter's near relative or verifiable legal guardian, or an authorized and trained multipartisan team member is unable to do so. Requires county boards to train and certify such employees and ensure that two such employees not of the same political party, or unaffiliated, are present any time a voter receives assistance, and the proper chain of custody is followed returning executed absentee ballots. Requires the Executive Director and the State Board to specify the training required for employees under these provisions. 

    Applies to elections held on or after the date the act becomes law and expires upon certification of the 2020 general election.

    Part V

    Deems mailed voter registration applications valid if postmarked by the Saturday before the election. Applies to elections held on or after the date the act becomes law and expires upon verification of the 2020 general election.

    Enacts GS 163-82.23A to mandate that any State agency currently offering voter registration under the National Voter Registration Act allow any individual whose signature is on record with that agency to access that signature for online voter registration. Applies to elections held on or after that date.

    Part VI

    Specifies that the State Board is not required to comply with the initial purchase and contract requirements under GS Chapter 143 for contracting for necessary supplies and other items needed for 2020 elections during the COVID-19 emergency. Specifies that neither the State Board nor county boards are required to comply with the public contract requirements under GS Chapter 143 for contracting for necessary supplies and other items needed for 2020 elections during the COVID-19 emergency. Expires upon certification of the 2020 general election.

    Part VII

    Details public education requirements for county boards for 2020 elections, including publishing registration and voting options on its website, if applicable, and including information on how to obtain voting information and how to vote by mail in any published election notices. 

    Details public education requirements for the State Board for 2020 elections, including publishing registration and voting options on its website, distributing information regarding registration and voting options, coordinating with state and federal agencies regarding registration option outreach, disseminating information about registration and voting options, and assisting county boards in public education for altered one-stop site hours.

    Appropriates $500,000 from the cash balance in the specified budget cot to the State Board for the 2020-21 fiscal year to implement this Part. Exempts the State Board and county boards from compliance with initial purchase and contract requirements of GS Chapter 143 in implementing this Part. 

    Effective July 1, 2020, and applies to elections held on or after that date.

    Part VIII

    Includes a severability clause.

    Part IX

    Provides that the act applies to elections held on or after the date the act becomes law and expires upon certification of the 2020 general election.


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