In an AP story Oct. 1, Nicholas Riccardi, Jonathan Drew, and Scott Bauer, discussed what they called “the unusually aggressive, hyperlocal legal strategy the Trump campaign is activating as voting begins.” 

The Associated Press reporters wrote that Republicans have been “piling new pressure on the often low-profile election officials on the frontline of the vote count, escalating micro-disputes over voting rules,” and “producing a blizzard of voting-related complaints [that] Trump and his allies have then seized on … distorted them, and used them to sow broad doubts of fairness and accuracy.” They quote an election law attorney saying it “clearly” shows the Republicans intend “to disrupt the election as much as possible.”

For example, Riccardi, Drew, and Bauer cited recent developments in North Carolina:

In North Carolina, where Black voters were sending in a disproportionate number of ballots with errors, the Board of Elections settled a lawsuit with a voting rights group making it easier for voters to fix mistakes. 

The board’s two Republicans quit in protest, and the GOP sued to block the settlement. …

On Thursday, the state Board of Elections, which has a Democratic majority, told counties to halt using the new cure method pending the outcome of court hearings this week and next.

Regardless of the outcome of the litigation, voting rights specialists were stunned at the Trump campaign’s step.

“What we’re talking about is an effort to deliberately place these barriers in front of people. And many may be discouraged from trying to cure, or making it impossible for them to cure, a deficiency,” said Irving Joyner, a law professor at N.C. Central University who’s not involved in the case.

That sounds pretty bad. Is a political party sowing doubts about fairness and accuracy and trying to disrupt the election? Let’s review the actual record.

Last March, the Democrats began a national campaign to expand mail-in voting. Their stated objective was to ensure voters wouldn’t have to expose themselves to COVID-19 by visiting polling stations in person. North Carolina, it turns out, was already well-positioned to accommodate those voters. Unlike states that permit voters to use absentee ballots only if they had a good reason, under North Carolina’s election law any and all voters could request and cast absentee ballots with no questions asked.

If the Democrats were actually concerned about the spread of COVID-19, they would probably have given North Carolina a pat on the back and concentrated on those other states. Instead, they targeted provisions in North Carolina law designed to discourage fraud and abuse, including rules requiring that ballots must be properly signed and witnessed, rules preventing individuals and groups from harvesting ballots from multiple voters and casting them in bulk, and rules specifying where, when, and how absentee ballots must be cast in order to count. Democrats argued that people who lived alone might find it hard to satisfy those requirements without exposing themselves to COVID-19, especially if they were elderly or disabled.

In response, the N.C. General Assembly adopted special absentee voting rules for the 2020 election that relaxed the protective provisions without eliminating them altogether. The new rules were approved by large, bipartisan majorities in both houses of the legislature and were promptly signed into law by the Democratic governor.

Even this bipartisan solution failed to satisfy the Democrats, however. With the election only months away, Democrat-affiliated lawyers helped Democrat-affiliated individuals and groups file multiple lawsuits demanding the removal of the remaining protections against ballot harvesting and fraud. Plaintiffs wanted the courts to put the protective provisions on hold until after the election, but in one lawsuit after another the courts refused. In one such lawsuit, a three-judge panel for the Wake County Superior Court noted that “there is not a substantial likelihood the Plaintiffs will prevail on the merits.” Furthermore, the judges noted that “the equities do not weigh in their favor” due to the proximity of the election, the tremendous cost that last-minute changes would impose on the state, and the confusion that such changes would cause to absentee voters.

With the Democrats having failed to achieve their desired result in the courts, absentee voting proceeded in accordance with the law. By the last full week in September, more than a million voters had requested absentee ballots, more than 600,000 absentee ballots had been distributed, and more than 200,000 completed ballots had been returned.

Perhaps you’d think that no one in their right mind would want to upset the apple cart at that point in the election, but you’d be quite wrong. On Sept. 22, Democrat-affiliated plaintiffs in one of the lawsuits and their Democrat-affiliated lawyers reached a settlement with Democrats on the N.C. State Board of Elections, giving them their desired end without having to wait for a court to decide on the merits. In exchange for the plaintiffs’ promise to drop their lawsuit, BOE issued a series of memos instructing all local election boards to ignore the protective provisions in the absentee ballot law.

It was at this point Republicans took the step that Riccardi, Drew, and Bauer found so objectionable; i.e., “they sued to block the settlement.” There were actually two Republican lawsuits, one filed by the party’s legislative leaders and one filed by a group of Republican voters, as well as the Republican National Committee.

In these lawsuits, the Republican plaintiffs argued the BOE had violated the provision in the U.S. Constitution stating that “The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof.” They also make the point that changing the rules after the election has already begun and after hundreds of thousands of ballots have already been completed and returned violates the rights of North Carolinians to be treated equally under the law and not to have their votes diluted after the fact by fraudulent or illegally harvested ballots.

This record speaks for itself, and it does show that a political party has been sowing doubts about fairness and accuracy and attempting to disrupt the 2020 election in North Carolina. Contrary to the AP writers’ claims, however, it’s not been the Republicans doing those things. It’s been the Democrats!

Riccardi, Drew, and Bauer got the story completely back-to-front, which suggests journalistic incompetence at best. Another mistake in their story seems more sinister:

In North Carolina, where Black voters were sending in a disproportionate number of ballots with errors, the Board of Elections settled a lawsuit with a voting rights group making it easier for voters to fix mistakes. 

The board’s two Republicans quit in protest, and the GOP sued to block the settlement.

This part clearly implies the purpose of the settlement was to address racial disparities and that Republican opposition was therefore an attempt to disenfranchise black voters. As the record shows, however, neither the agreement itself nor the Republican challenge had anything to do with race. According to the Democratic parties to the agreement, it was about ensuring elderly and disabled voters who live alone could file absentee ballots without exposing themselves to COVID-19. According to the Republican challengers, it was about protecting the integrity of the election by preventing an administrative agency from usurping legislative power.

For Riccardi, Drew, and Bauer to frame the story in racial terms seems like something worse than incompetence. It looks like partisan malice.