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Court won’t halt witness requirement for NC absentee ballots

North Carolina judges refused on Thursday to block a witness requirement for mail-in absentee ballots this fall that’s already been scaled down by legislators to address COVID-19 health concerns.

The three judges rejected unanimously a request for an injunction by registered voters in a lawsuit filed in July that challenged the state law that one witness sign a person’s ballot return envelope.

More than 600,000 North Carolina absentee ballot requests — dramatically higher compared to 2016 — already have been received for the November election, as many with health concerns prefer not to vote in person. The first ballots were to be mailed to registered voters on Friday.

The voters who sued — each with pre-existing health conditions — said the one-witness requirement demanded close contact that would force them to choose between their health and the right to vote.

The judges wrote Thursday that the plaintiffs were unlikely to win at trial. Even if it appeared they could succeed, the ruling said, making a change would require replacements for ballot envelopes and voter guides that have already cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“Such a process will create delays in mailing ballots for all North Carolinians voting by absentee ballot . . . and would likely lead to voter confusion,” read the ruling signed by Superior Court Judges Alma Hinton, Robert Bell and Thomas Lock.

State law usually requires two witness signatures, but the General Assembly agreed in June to reduce it to help people who may be at a higher risk for the coronavirus.

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