Editorial: Rally around bipartisan consensus for voting plan

Published 12:01 am Sunday, July 12, 2020

Americans are more divided than ever, with seemingly everything falling victim to a political divide.

Consider this result from a June 16-22 Pew Research Center Poll of more than 4,700 adults: 28% of Democrats say they’re comfortable eating in a restaurant as compared to 65% of Republicans. People who identified as Republican or lean Republican were far less likely than their Democratic counterparts to say masks should be worn in public all or most of the time.

Particularly around the coronavirus, it seems unlikely that polarized positions will move to the center. Communities like Rowan County, however, should be able to come together around the issue of voting in November. That doesn’t mean agreeing on everything, but it should involve finding a common solution to ensure everyone can vote safely.

It’s understandable members of the Rowan County Board of Elections and the general public will disagree about some particular details. There may be arguments to reduce polling locations because of the threat of poll workers opting to stay home for their own health. There may be simultaneous arguments that more polling places will be needed to ensure appropriate social distancing. And then there’s voting by mail, which tends to draw concerns from Republicans about the potential for fraud.

Wishful thinking, perhaps, but the county should be able to reach a bipartisan consensus about voting amid a global pandemic. That consensus should involve more days for voting, protections for poll workers and voters when they enter the polling location as well as adequate resources for the mail-in absentee requests and ballots. What’s more, the public needs to know that their votes will be counted and that visiting a polling location won’t endanger their health.

A good start would be for Rowan County Board of Elections members to focus on the most generous options for general election voting plans — one that adds an additional Saturday and one Sunday of voting and another dubbed “The People’s Plan,” which is the most generous and includes all possible voting days. By choosing one of the most generous options, the county can take one step to ensure crowds don’t become health hazards at polling places and that casting a vote is a quick process. Other steps will need to include appropriate social distancing inside and outside of the polling location and encouraging voters to make use of added days of early voting.

The board is currently scheduled to vote on a plan July 28 at 12:30 p.m. Immediately after that vote, it must pivot to assessing the resources it has for processing mail-in ballots and, if needed, ask county and state officials for more resources. While they already voted for a bill making mail-in absentee voting easier, Rowan County’s state legislators should be willing to quickly advocate on the county’s behalf if more changes are needed. Whether they like it or not, North Carolinians can now vote absentee without an excuse with only a witness signature and many more people are expected to do so this year than ever before. 

The right to vote is not partisan and neither should ensuring that everyone — regardless of race, age, health condition or any other label — can do so without risking their health during the COVID-19 pandemic.