The requirements for voting by mail in North Carolina are absurd.

Let’s start with the basics: it’s important that our elections are secure, that outcomes are trustworthy, and that only those entitled to vote should cast a ballot. But the steps required to turn in an absentee ballot in our state are disconnected from election security and only serve as frustrating, bureaucratic red tape.

The problem starts even before ballots arrive in our mailboxes. North Carolina law requires voters to submit absentee ballot request forms prior to each election. In 2022, we have up to three elections scheduled, which means three separate request forms.

Is filling out three forms a big deal? Not by themselves, but it’s also unnecessary. Our state does not require an excuse to vote by mail, which minimizes the need for a fresh evaluation of circumstances each election. Nevertheless, our process requires voters to input the same information multiple times per year, which only increases opportunities for human error and is the definition of pointless bureaucracy.

Perhaps this is why states like Arizona, Montana and Virginia maintain a permanent absentee voter list. In these states, voters only need to request an absentee ballot once. From there, they can go about their lives with confidence that they’ll receive an absentee ballot in all future elections.

As with any other government process, the goal should be minimizing unnecessary regulations and putting citizens first. A permanent absentee voter list in North Carolina would do both.

Yet, while the registration process is cumbersome, it’s nothing compared to the hoops voters must jump through in order to fill out an absentee ballot.

Unlike most other states, North Carolina requires two witnesses or a notary to verify the voter’s identity on an absentee ballot. But most households don’t contain more than two adults, let alone a notary. This means an absentee voter has to find at least one other adult from outside the household or schedule time with a notary to watch the voter fill out a ballot. While the time required to fill out a ballot may be only a few minutes, coordinating the logistics is a sizable burden for both the voter and the witnesses.

It also makes North Carolina an outlier among election systems. Only two other states—Alabama and Rhode Island—maintain similar requirements, with the vast majority of states relying upon some other mechanism such as signature verification or voter ID.

Inviting friends or family to witness a vote also undercuts a fundamental democratic practice–the secret ballot. Whether at home or at the polling place, voters should be free to vote their consciences without pressure from others, including friends and family. Ultimately, requiring two witness signatures is not only a burden on the voter but a strain on democracy.

Voters should have more options. For those who like the witness-based system, let them verify identity with a witness signature. But for those who want to vote on their own schedule or who prioritize ballot secrecy, North Carolina should follow the lead of our neighbors in Georgia and allow them to verify identity with a driver’s license or state ID number.

With voter ID, ballot security wouldn’t be compromised, and voter convenience would be prioritized. That’s a win-win.

North Carolina must have a trustworthy voting system. But that’s no excuse for saddling voters with needless frustrations. It’s time to end the absurdity, cut the red tape and give voters more options.

Image: lulla

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