The RNC, NCGOP, and NRCC filed a ‘request for Declaratory Ruling’ Tuesday with the North Carolina State Board of Elections (NCSBE) related to absentee ballot guidance and voter ID rules adopted by the NCSBE that Republicans believe are in conflict with state law. The parties are asking NCSBE to issue altered guidance to be in line with the relevant statutes.

Earlier this year, the NCSBE passed rules regarding Voter ID and issued revised rules interpreting various laws governing absentee ballots. According to Republicans, those rules are not consistent with current state laws requiring a specific handling of absentee ballots.

Republicans claim the guidance issued by NCSBE runs afoul of state law when it advises county elections boards that absentee ballots do not need to be properly returned in container-return envelopes, which are sealed, in order to count.

They are also challenging the lose administration of Voter ID laws, calling into question what they perceive as an ‘anything goes’ process that undermines the spirit of the law. The rule allows a voter to provide “any explanation or documentation” which could help an election official determine voter identification, instead of following the official guidelines for verifying voter identification as set out in law.

“It is critical for elections officials to fully comply with state laws meant to ensure election integrity in North Carolina,” said RNC Chairman Michael Whatley in a press release. “The North Carolina State Board of Elections’ guidelines and rules, which we are challenging today, clearly conflict with state law and will undermine the integrity of North Carolina elections. The RNC and our partners are dedicated to ensuring fair and transparent elections, and we are taking this action to ensure that it will be easy to vote and hard to cheat in the Old North State.”

The NCGOP has made election integrity a focus of the state party since the 2020 elections, regularly challenging the administrative actions of a State Board of Elections appointed by Democrat Governor Roy Cooper. Republicans in the General Assembly have attempted to reform the structure of NCSBE through legislation, aiming for an even split of Republican and Democrats, but have been sued and ultimately blocked by the courts.

North Carolina Republicans have regularly challenged the actions of NCSBE Executive Director Karen Brinson Bell on issues ranging from early voting site guidance for counties, to ignoring law changes on absentee ballots and poll observers.

“NCSBE Executive Director Karen Brinson Bell has repeatedly abused her authority to sidestep legislation passed by the General Assembly,” stated Jason Simmons, Chairman of the North Carolina Republican Party in a. press release. “She is manipulating the elections process and undermining common sense election integrity measures in order to fulfill a partisan narrative.”

The NCSBE is expected to address the parties’ request in writing within 30 days, in keeping with North Carolina law regarding declaratory rulings.

In response to the charges from Republicans, NCSBE spokesman Patrick Gannon Further, emphasized to Carolina Journal that the administrative rule was not implemented unilaterally by the executive director, but by the full State Board of Elections after being given approval by other official bodies before issuance.

“The administrative rule at issue was adopted by the full Board of Elections, not its executive director, and was approved by the Rules Review Commission,” stated Gannon. “The memo at issue was issued by the executive director of the State Board, relying on guidance from legal counsel and upon the agreement of the full State Board of Elections.”

Further, in addition to the memo being approved from NCSBE attorneys, Gannon says that the rule in question was also the subject of extensive discussions between NCSBE attorneys and the Rules Review Commission.

Records provided by the NCBSE show correspondence from March of this year between NCSBE General Counsel Paul Cox and Rules Review Commission Chairman William Peasley, working to address clarifying questions from the commission and to ensure consistency with state and federal law.

“Bill – thanks for your additional feedback. Below are some additional responses from the agency and attached are the two rules, revised accordingly,” reads an email from Cox to Chairman Peaslee. After some consultation, the NC Rules Review Commission ultimately approved of the updated guidance and rule.

The NCSBE is confident, through the work of agency attorneys and consultation with the Rules Review Commission, the changes made are consistent with election law requirements. Per North Carolina law, the NCSBE has 30 days to respond in writing to the request for a declaratory ruling.

Editor’s Note: This story was updated to include NCSBE’s response to ruling requests.