Officials in North Carolina said Monday that the state will expand its use of online voter registration as the COVID-19 pandemic has undercut in-person registrations. The North Carolina State Board of Elections, in a press release, said that the state Division of Motor Vehicles will start processing online registrations from people with state-issued identification cards without requiring them to complete a separate transaction.
Previously, North Carolina only offered online voter registration as an extra option to people completing an online, paid transaction through the DMV, such as a driver’s license or vehicle registration renewal, while all other registrations had to be submitted on paper. But with the state’s response to the coronavirus outbreak prompting the closure of most county boards of elections and many DMV offices, in-person voter-registration efforts have all but halted — a trend not limited to North Carolina, as more and more states implement social-distancing regimes that discourage gatherings of more than 10 people.
“It’s another way we can help North Carolina voters while we practice social distancing,” Karen Brinson Bell, NCSBE’s executive director, said in the press release.
Torre Jessup, the DMV’s commissioner, said it “made sense” to drop the requirement that people needed to complete a separate transaction in order to submit an online voter registration.
With people unable to visit government offices and door-to-door canvassing effectively shut down, though, voting-rights advocates are struggling to figure out how to bring young people and other potentially new voters into the democratic process.
“The public health crisis has brought all of that activity virtually to a grinding halt,” Kristin Clarke of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law told NBC News.
North Carolina’s move leaves 10 states that do not offer online voter registration, according to the National Council of State Legislatures, though New Jersey recently enacted legislation that will implement online registration beginning in June. Oklahoma in 2018 launched a system that allows registered voters to update their addresses and party affiliations, and is in the process of expanding that platform to accept new registrations.
A push toward expanded online voter registration is one of multiple steps officials are looking at to ensure elections can still take place in the middle of a public health crisis. Ohio, which delayed its March 17 primary election until April 28, is only taking ballots by mail, provided registered voters first request them. In Congress, some Democratic senators have proposed legislation that would require every state to offer mail-in ballots to all voters this November, though no further actions have been taken on that bill.
The $2 trillion emergency relief package that President Donald Trump signed Friday includes $400 million in grant money to be distributed by the Election Assistance Commission, though there are no specifications on what states can do with their awards.
North Carolina’s online voter registrations will be hosted by PayIt, the state DMV’s online-transactions vendor. Officials did not answer questions about how many new voter registrations they expect to collect online, or if the state plans to reach out to eligible voters who do not have DMV records.