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Make sure Hurricane Florence victims have easy access to the polls

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Far too many people living in the 28 counties designated for Hurricane Florence disaster assistance don’t know where they’ll sleep a month from now, much less where they’ll be voting.

If there’s one thing they shouldn’t have to worry about, is how and where they’ll get to the polls. This is the 21st century. There’s more than adequate technology to provide access and security so all citizens can participate in the 2018 elections.

The General Assembly opened a special session on Tuesday to focus on immediate needs to assist those who have been displaced and disrupted by the hurricane’s battering winds and flooding rains.

At the top of the list should be extending the time people — particularly in those areas most affected by the storm — can register to vote. House Elections Committee Chairman Rep. David Lewis has said he’s already working on legislation to do just that.

But that’s just a small start on several steps legislators need take to make sure no one is disenfranchised simply because they are hurricane victims. There need not be any hand-wringing over who might, or might not, get any imagined partisan advantage. The disaster-designated counties account for a quarter of the state’s Democrats, a quarter of the Republicans and a quarter of the unaffiliated voters.

The most important objective is help more people vote.

The state Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement has alerted Gov. Roy Cooper and the legislative leadership of several areas of concern:

• Make sure there are adequate opportunities for voter registration

• Assure those who are seeking to vote by mail are able to request and submit ballots

• Provide adequate staffing for elections office and Election Day polling places

• Provide ample and convenient voting locations — particularly if already designated polling places are no longer available

• Develop alternate voting locations for those who have been driven from their homes and may not have access to absentee voting

A coalition of advocacy groups has proposed a series of commonsense steps legislators should embrace to make sure that no one is needlessly deprived of their right to vote. We urge legislative leaders to look past the reflexive antipathy they harbor toward some of these groups to see the wisdom in their ideas.

In this age of connectivity, the state board can set up large-scale early and Election Day voting locations where people from several counties can vote. By providing appropriate information, it shouldn’t be difficult to get access to the exact ballot voters (who attest they’ve been displaced) might need. Also, just as voters in the military service or who are overseas can request email ballots, those who are displaced storm victims should be able to do the same.

Other simple steps include:

• Deploy mobile early voting sites to hurricane-affected counties

• Provide “pop-up” early voting sites at or near emergency shelters

• Send election officials and notaries into shelters to provide voters with absentee ballot forms, collect the completed forms and provide a way ballots can be received at a post office or other address that voters can access.

The citizens of eastern North Carolina will endure more than enough full-blown hardships and petty inconveniences in the coming weeks and months. Voting shouldn’t be one of them.

The election is little more than a month away. Legislators should move quickly to enact these commonsense steps to make sure no one is deprived of their most basic citizenship right — and obligation.

We want to see EVERYONE at the polls.

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