GOP sues over NC elections board’s absentee ballot date, observer rule

Published 9:24 am Sunday, September 11, 2022

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By Gary D. Robertson, Associated Press

North Carolina and national Republicans sued Friday seeking to block the State Board of Elections from extending the fall absentee ballot receipt deadline because of a holiday and from enforcing a rule that could disrupt the movement of some polling site observers.

The Republican National Committee, state Republican Party and the Clay County GOP chairwoman sued the state board, the board members and its top administrator in Wake County court. They want a judge to declare the board is violating state law and the state and U.S. constitutions.

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The GOP plaintiffs contend that board executive director Karen Brinson Bell lacked authority last month to move the absentee ballot deadline from Nov. 11 β€” the federal and state Veterans Day holiday β€” to Nov. 14.

State law says county election offices must receive civilian absentee ballots by the third day after Election Day β€” either in person or in the mail if the ballot was postmarked by Election Day, which is Nov. 8 this year.

Bell’s memo cited another state law that says transactions set to occur on a holiday may be performed on the next day after government offices are reopen. A delay similar to the one instituted by Bell occurred in 2016, when Election Day was also Nov. 8.

The lawsuit says the absentee ballot deadline law doesn’t specifically give the board authority to push the back the deadline based on a legal holiday.

“This sudden change usurps the North Carolina General Assembly’s authority to regulate β€˜the times, places and manner of holding elections for senators and representatives’ under the U.S. Constitution,” the lawsuit said.

The Republicans’ lawsuit also says the board overstepped its authority related to “at-large” observers chosen by political parties to monitor voting site activity where it’s needed and not just at one precinct.

The lawsuit says since 2016 board guidance or rules have required an at-large observer to work for at least four hours before they can be replaced at a voting site. The Republicans contend the requirement doesn’t align with state law and makes it hard for the party to fill volunteer gaps at voting sites and precincts by moving at-large observers to other locales.

The directive hasn’t been enforced much, the lawsuit says, but the GOP believes it will be enforced this fall, despite the party’s written requests to have it repealed.

The State Board of Elections didn’t immediately have a comment late Friday on the lawsuit, which was filed on the same day county election boards began sending absentee ballots to those who have requested them so far.

RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said Friday’s lawsuit is the latest effort “to preserve transparency in North Carolina elections and stop unelected bureaucrats from rewriting the law in the Tar Heel state.”

The Republican National Committee and state GOP opposed temporary rules approved by the state board last month that prohibited poll watchers from standing too close to voting machines and granted election officials the ability to remove disruptive observers. The state Rules Review Commission later blocked those changes.

In 2020, Republicans unsuccessfully fought portions of a legal settlement between the State Board of Elections and a union-affiliated group to extend the grace period for mail-in absentee ballots from three to nine days in response to postal delays and the COVID-19 pandemic.