News: Quick Takes

Recent N.C. redistricting ‘special master’ warns of potential mail-in ballot woes

Stanford Law School professor Nathaniel Persily, who was chosen by a Superior Court panel as a referee to review 2020 legislative maps. (Photo from Stanford Law School)
Stanford Law School professor Nathaniel Persily, who was chosen by a Superior Court panel as a referee to review 2020 legislative maps. (Photo from Stanford Law School)

The Stanford law professor who played a major role in recent redrawing of N.C. election maps is issuing a national warning about mail-in balloting.

“I think we have two weeks to make the critical decisions that are necessary to pull off this election,” said Nate Persily, professor at Stanford Law School, in a Tuesday, Aug. 4, report from NBC News.

Persily responded to news that uncounted absentee ballots have prevented New York from declaring a winner in a Democratic congressional primary election conducted six weeks ago. “Persily says New York’s problem could be the nation’s problem come November without swift and drastic action,” according to NBC.

The disputed New York election is “a cautionary tale of how states and localities really need to get prepared and work with the postal service to make sure that mail balloting works,” Persily told the TV network.

Persily is urging Congress to spend another $3 billion to $4 billion to “put the basics in place,” NBC reports.

“He believes that if Congress fails to act and the election is close, the results may not be known and the decision on who wins may go to the Supreme Court,” according to the TV report.

Persily first attracted attention in North Carolina in October 2017, when a three-judge federal panel selected him as a “special master” in a lawsuit challenging state legislative election maps.

Republican legislative leaders later blasted Persily’s “overt political agenda” after the federal judges empowered the professor to redraw portions of N.C. legislative maps. Courts spent weeks debating whether voters would face districts drawn by Persily or state lawmakers in 2018. Some of the 2018 districts ended up being based on Persily’s handiwork.

In 2019 a three-judge state panel named Persily a “referee” in a state case challenging legislative districts used in 2018. Election observers raised questions at the time about the transparency of Persily’s work. Judges had ordered the General Assembly to draw its new election maps in open session, but no details had been released about whether Persily would face the same type of public scrutiny. That issue did not end up playing a role in the judges’ final decision about districts voters face as they head to the polls this year.