While we’re still fussin’ and fightin’ about the 2020 elections the 2022 races have already begun. Candidates have announced for the US Senate seat vacated when Richard Burr retires. Before going too far into next year’s races can we all agree we want fair elections, referendums that encourage all voters to participate and ensure trustworthy voting procedures? If so, let’s talk about things to help achieve that goal.
We need to begin with the redistricting that’s required following the 2020 census. The Census Bureau says it will be sometime in September before North Carolina gets a final count of the numbers, demographics, and counties where people live. There are two things we can and should do right now. To ensure all candidates have a legitimate opportunity to win we must end the gerrymandering of districts that virtually guarantee a victory for one political party. There is no reason we cannot put in place an impartial redistricting process where voters select their leaders instead of leaders effectively selecting voters. We’ve talked about it forever. Let’s implore our lawmakers to do it this year. Taxpayers would save millions of dollars by avoiding costly and disruptive redistricting lawsuits that result in the needless redrawing of districts.
We also need to postpone the March 8, 2022 Primary Elections. If we’re not getting final census numbers until late September, there’s no way we can draw new districts (including a new14th Congressional district) and allow candidates sufficient time to file to run prior to the December 13th deadline. That’s just a little more than two months. Lawmakers should change the Primary to our traditional second Tuesday in May (the 10th) to assure thoughtful and fair redistricting, as well as adequate time to organize campaigns and file for the General Election November 8th.
Let’s address other important issues. The biggest controversy in 2020 surrounded absentee ballots. In the middle of the worst health crisis in the past 100 years many were rightfully concerned about voting in person and worried their vote would be denied. Further, the US Postmaster General appeared to be taking actions to slow down mail delivery, so the combination of the pandemic and slower mails resulted in a lawsuit the state would most likely lose. The State Board of Elections agreed to a compromise solution so the election could be held as scheduled. It allowed absentee ballots to be counted for up to nine days as long as they were postmarked on or before election day. Nine days is too long in normal circumstances, but 2020 was far from normal. Incidentally, most all winners were known election night, but the compromise angered lawmakers.
The law legislators proposed as a solution was that no future settlement could be reached without the approval of the House Speaker and Senate President Pro Tem. This puts them in the role of judges and is an unnecessary power grab. State agencies currently have the power to settle lawsuits and this change would threaten all agencies in state government. Our legislature cannot make all decisions in government.
It is reasonable to assume the popularity of absentee ballots will grow. Let’s restore our traditional system whereby an absentee ballot will be counted so long as is it postmarked on or before election and received within three days following election day. This has worked well in the past.
Another change that could simplify elections and save money would be to begin ranked choice voting. This concept sounds complicated but is really simple and is gaining popularity across the nation. A voter selects his or her first choice for an office, then also designates a second and third choice. If no one candidate secures enough votes to win on the first count the second and/or third choice votes are added to totals until someone gets a high enough percentage to win. This one change would eliminate runoff elections, saving at least $4 million for every statewide runoff.
To improve election integrity, we would propose that all 100 counties use the same voting machines and that each machine have a paper trail so recounts can be easily verified. We can pay for the new machines through savings achieved from ranked choice and fewer redistricting lawsuits.
The 2020 North Carolina elections set modern-day records for turnouts without significant fraud or errors. North Carolinians must be able to trust the integrity of our election process and the. proposals outlined above could help in restoring trust and improving our elections.
Tom Campbell is a Hall of Fame North Carolina Broadcaster and columnist who has covered North Carolina public policy issues since 1965. He recently retired from writing, producing and moderating the statewide half-hour TV program NC SPIN that aired 22 ½ years. Contact him at email@example.com