Indy Week | By Geoff West | April 13, 2021
State House Democrats on Tuesday unveiled legislation aimed at improving voting access in North Carolina with provisions such as creating automatic voter registration, expanding mail-in voting, and designating Election Day as a state holiday.
“The common thread is democracy works best when everyone is involved,” said Rep. Allison Dahle of Wake County, one of five House members who spoke at a press conference promoting the legislation.
House Bill 446, one of two bills discussed Tuesday, would make several changes to state election laws aimed at making it easier to register and cast ballots.
Among the provisions, the bill would:
—Allow government agencies to automatically register a person to vote or update their voter registration information whenever the person interacts with a government body
—Enable online voter registration
—Promote mail-in voting by sending each registered voter an absentee ballot application
—Make Election Day in each even-numbered year a public holiday for state employees
The bill seeks to build on bipartisan legislation enacted last year in response to the pandemic that helped more than 1 million North Carolinians vote by mail during the 2020 presidential election, said Rep. Marcia Morey of Durham County.
The bill is also a reaction to Republican-controlled state legislatures that have moved to restrict voting access since last year’s election, Morey said.
“This is a bill that gives no favors to any political party, and it’s very simple,” she said. “It asks for ease and accessibility to all eligible North Carolinians to exercise their right to vote.”
Automatic voter registration, which 20 states have enacted, is a key piece of the legislation aimed at overcoming barriers to the ballot box, said Rep. Amos Quick of Guilford County.
Low turnout, for instance, is partly explained by “people who don’t understand, or don’t have time, or are a little bit intimidated by the registration process,” Quick said. “Automatic registration would make the process less intimidating and easier for North Carolinians to engage in the process.”
Many of the provisions in the bill mimic language included in congressional House Bill 1, or the “For the People Act,” which has so far stalled in Congress due to a lack of Republican support, and the same fate may await H.B. 446. All 36 cosponsors of the bill are Democrats.
Also Tuesday, Rep. Ashton Clemmons of Guilford County outlined House Bill 542, a newly filed companion bill that also seeks changes to state election law. The legislation would, among other things, create an independent redistricting commission to combat partisan gerrymandering, curtail former lawmakers from registering as lobbyists, and establish new rules to improve transparency over digital ad campaigns.
Bob Phillips, executive director of the North Carolina chapter of Common Cause, a left-leaning good-government advocacy group, hopes the two parties can find common ground on the legislation as it did a year ago for the 2020 presidential election. He urged Republican leadership to give it a chance.
“There is nothing to fear,” Phillips said. “These are good things. When people participate in democracy, voters win, political parties win, democracy wins—and that’s what we want.”