Amid COVID-19 Outbreak, NextGen Calls for Expanded Ballot Access in North Carolina

Youth vote organization calls on the NCGA to expand vote-by-mail and online voter registration amid deficiencies that leave out young voters 

RALEIGH — NextGen North Carolina this week called on state leaders to expand vote-by-mail and online voter registration following current efforts that fail to adequately reduce voting barriers in the face of COVID-19. The progressive organization aims to register at least 30,000 young North Carolinians in the lead-up to November, a demographic that faces significant voting barriers. With $10.9 million in federal stimulus funding heading to North Carolina to support the state’s elections this year, existing efforts, such as the new online voter registration tool, are insufficient to make voting safe and accessible to all.

The NC State Board of Elections (BOE) has already made several recommendations to expand vote-by-mail options in response to COVID-19 — but these proposals were quickly rejected by top Republican lawmaker Phil Berger, whose caucus has repeatedly supported regressive voting laws that put up roadblocks to the ballot.

While the BOE and the DMV have recently taken a step in the right direction by unveiling a new online voter registration portal for current DMV customers, some serious deficiencies leave out many North Carolinians — college students and young voters who are new residents to North Carolina and do not yet have a state-issued ID are unable to register to vote online. Similar to the voter ID laws that have been struck down in court, this tool disproportionately excludes people of color and young people.

“Republicans like Berger, Tillis, and Trump would love to see young voters sit this election out,” said NextGen NC State Director Harrison Peel. “So they’ll be disappointed to see record-breaking youth turnout this year. Young North Carolinians are fed up with Republican  policies, and failing to make voting safe and accessible is just the latest example.”

In November, Gen Z’ers and Millennials will make up nearly 40% of the electorate, but voting barriers may keep many of them from the polls. Complicated and ambiguous voting regulations that vary by state, lack of transportation to off-campus polling locations, and confusing identification and residency requirements are all reasons why young voters face challenges casting their ballots.

NextGen North Carolina is calling on state leaders to implement a series of changes to ensure that every North Carolinian has safe and fair access to the ballot this fall. Those changes include:

  • Allow all voters to cast mail-in ballots with pre-paid postage
  • Count mail-in or absentee ballots postmarked on Election Day
  • Expand in-person early voting to reduce long lines at polling places
  • Expand & improve online voter registration, including for eligible voters without DMV records
  • Increase staffing at elections offices and polling places to adequately adapt to new processes

“I’m a new North Carolina resident and I want to register to vote online, but I don’t have a state-issued license yet,” said Lauren Reyes, a Wilmington-based organizer with NextGen North Carolina, who has been fielding questions from students about how to vote safely in the face of COVID-19. “I’m trying to get young people to register to vote online and make voting a priority, but I can’t even use the new system myself. North Carolina has a lot of room to grow to make voting more accessible.”