A judge has dismissed Democratic attempts to throw out North Carolina’s protections against absentee voting fraud. But his ruling ensures the State Board of Elections must give voters due process to fix problems with their mail-in ballots.
The decision offers good news for North Carolinians who will vote from home due to COVID-19, says Mitch Kokai, John Locke Foundation senior political analyst.
On Tuesday, Aug. 4, U.S. District Court Judge William Osteen said fears about COVID-19 aren’t sufficient to change state laws for mail-in ballots. The General Assembly got serious about potential voter fraud after a 2018 scandal in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District. The state ordered a new election after a Republican political operative and several associates faced charges of allegedly collecting and falsifying absentee ballots to flip a congressional race. Lawmakers enacted a law providing accountability during absentee voting.
The lawsuit, filed in May by the League of Women Voters of North Carolina and Democracy North Carolina, targeted several of those new provisions. Plaintiffs asked the court to end an early voter registration deadline, provide “contactless” drop points for absentee ballots, and nix requirements that a witness sign every mail-in ballot.
Osteen didn’t grant those requests, which are akin to a “Democratic Party wish list,” Kokai said. He did, however, address a legitimate concern about an election that will rely more heavily on mail-in balloting. Current rules allow voters to fix mistakes on their ballot if they vote in person. Under Osteen’s ruling, the State Board of Elections can’t reject absentee ballots until they’ve installed a similar process for voter appeals.
Osteen also made way for the General Assembly to enact a law to protect voters’ rights to fix their ballot and have it counted.
“One of the best parts of Judge Osteen’s decision was his willingness to defer to the General Assembly for decisions about the details of addressing the plaintiffs’ issues,” Kokai said. “The court order will remain in place only until lawmakers take their own steps to resolve critical election-integrity issues.”
Data from the liberal Southern Coalition for Social Justice show more than 282,000 absentee ballots were rejected in North Carolina’s March primary election. Forty-one percent of those could’ve been counted if voters had been notified and given a chance to fix their mistakes, the League of Women Voters said in a Tuesday news release.
Sen. Ralph Hise, R-Mitchell, chairs the Senate Elections Committee. He praised Osteen’s decision in a news release Tuesday while also criticizing Democrats for what he says is an attempt to “undo bipartisan absentee ballot fraud protections passed by the legislature.”
“These partisan lawsuits undermine trust in elections by seeking to legalize ballot harvesting and make it easier to commit absentee ballot fraud. We’re glad a federal judge drew the line on these dangerous attempts to undermine election security.”