WASHINGON D.C. -- Across the country, states are postponing primary elections due to the coronavirus outbreak.

In North Carolina, for example, state election leaders decided to push back a run-off in the 11th Congressional District from May to June.

But what if the virus threat continues or re-emerges this November, when eyes shift to the White House and the presidential race?

Karen Brinson Bell, the executive director of the North Carolina State Board of Elections, says they are weighing their options for how to ensure the election goes on this fall.

“It is a new challenge,” she said.

In November, she anticipates more people than usual will choose to vote by mail - eliminating the health risk of being around people at the polling place.

Even though North Carolina makes mail-in ballots available to anyone who requests one, they are typically not a popular voting option, Brinson Bell says. Instead, a lot of people take advantage of in-person early voting, which itself allows for increased social distancing by spreading out voting opportunities over several days.

If more people do indeed request to vote by mail, Brinson Bell says special considerations will need to be made, including ensuring appropriate staffing levels to count the ballots.

“We have to take sanitation and health-safety practices in dealing with those articles of mail," she said. "We may be looking at purchasing additional equipment for the counties. There are high speed tabulators that can process ballots a lot more quickly than feeding them in one at a time."

Would the state consider switching to mail-in voting exclusively? Brinson Bell expressed some reservations about that approach, noting that it is a big transition to make in a short period of time.

“States that do have all mail balloting have been preparing for that and implementing that - it took them years to do so,” she said. “We also have to just think about not putting all of our eggs in one basket because while the postal service is accustomed to a large volume of mail, their workforce may be impacted by coronavirus also.”

If the mail-in option becomes increasingly necessary in the fall, election rights advocates like Tomas Lopez argue the state must take additional steps to eliminate barriers to participation.

Lopez is the executive director of the progressive group Democracy North Carolina. The organization recently sent a letter to the NCSBE outlining their ideas for how to respond to the coronavirus.

Lopez says the state should do public outreach whether on TV or in mailers, so people new to mail-in voting know how it works and how to sign up. He argues the state could ensure that postage is paid for on the ballots, so people do not have to go searching for a stamp.

And the state, in his view, may need to update the ballots themselves so they are easier to fill out.

“We see in every election voters sometimes end up having their absentee ballots not counted because they didn’t sign them in the right place,” Lopez said. "We've got a design issue there."

Brinson Bell notes that many of the ideas under consideration - from new counting equipment to public outreach - come with a price tag.

On Capitol Hill, some Democrats are calling for Congress to include election funding as part of the response to the coronavirus.

Additional information about voting by mail, including the form to sign up, can be found here. Voters do not need a specific excuse or reason to request a mail-in ballot.

More on how the NCSBE is responding to the coronavirus outbreak is posted here.