Election observers caused few disturbances in North Carolina

Published 8:06 am Sunday, November 13, 2022

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

By Hannah Schoenbaum, Associated Press/Report for America

After widespread worries of unruly election observers led several North Carolina counties to ramp up security at the polls, the State Board of Elections received eight reports involving party-appointed observers – one on Election Day and seven during early voting.

Overall, the state board received reports of 21 conduct violations, involving both observers and campaigners, during the 2022 general election — 16 during the early voting period from Oct. 20 to Nov. 5, and five on Election Day.

Get the latest headlines sent to you

The reports included 12 instances of alleged voter intimidation, one instance of possible voter interference and eight instances of alleged election official intimidation, as categorized by the board. There may be additional incidents that have not yet been reported, said board spokesperson Patrick Gannon.

Campaigners, also referred to in the reports as electioneers, were the most common perpetrators of misconduct on Election Day, according to data obtained by The Associated Press.

“One incident of voter or election official intimidation is too many, and we will continue to do everything we can to protect voters and election officials,” Gannon told the AP, noting that the vast majority of voters cast their ballots without issue.

Karen Brinson Bell, executive director of the state board, told reporters Monday that all incidents will be reviewed by the board’s investigations division, which will determine whether the complaints should be elevated to law enforcement, a local district attorney or the U.S. Department of Justice.

Election Day incidents involved an observer in Halifax County who allegedly photographed curbside voters, and an election worker in Wake County who reported being followed by car from a voting site. A campaigner in Rutherford County allegedly told a voter not to enter a polling site without a photo ID — which is not required to vote in North Carolina — and falsely claimed law enforcement was “arresting people on site.”

In Rowan County, a campaigner allegedly refused to keep proper distance from curbside voters, called the chief judge a derogatory term and grabbed and threw the judge’s cell phone. The same individual reportedly took photos of another election official’s car, then “taunted and threatened her.”

And in Granville County, a campaigner was cited for “aggressively pushing candidates to curbside voters,” leaning into their cars and ignoring voters’ requests to be left alone.

While observers were not involved in most Election Day incidents, some were reported during early voting for yelling at voters, refusing to move out of restricted areas, photographing curbside voters and standing too close to people while they filled out ballots.

In Columbus County, a male observer allegedly followed a female poll worker home from an early voting site. The case has been referred to local law enforcement.

Former President Donald Trump’s debunked claim that the 2020 presidential election results were fraudulent motivated thousands of his supporters to register as observers and scrutinize elections operations nationwide, intensifying concerns that observers might cause disruptions this year.

The state board’s Democratic majority voted in August to tighten the rules governing poll observers in response to more than a dozen reported conduct violations during the May primary. But the state’s rules review panel, appointed by the Republican-controlled General Assembly, blocked the new regulations later that month, leaving election officials without additional tools to manage behavior during the general election.

Gannon said the state board is unable to compare the numbers of observer-related incidents with those from previous years.

“We have not tracked these incidents in the past as we have this year, primarily because there has never been such a focus on observer conduct, nor have we had many reported incidents in the past,” he said.

The board received the few notices as voters cast ballots at over 2,650 polling places on Election Day and at about 360 early voting sites. It reports that close to 3.75 million ballots have been cast in the fall elections, or 50.5% of the state’s 7.41 million registered voters. Statewide turnout for the 2018 general election was 53%.

Turnout will creep up slightly as county boards receive absentee ballots postmarked by Election Day before upcoming deadlines. These boards also are examining whether provisional ballots should be counted.