New restrictions on poll-watchers proposed by the State Board of Elections would make the logistics of maintaining election integrity much more difficult for N.C. political parties. 

Another new rule would classify common campaign flags and yard signs as billboards — complete with paperwork requirements that would burden grassroots campaigns.

The N.C. Republican Party sent a letter to the board opposing the two rule changes, saying they “serve no other purpose than to frustrate public oversight of the voting process and to chill free speech.”

Under current law, parties appoint two observers per precinct, as well as a list of “at-large” observers that can poll-watch at multiple sites. Two poll watchers of each party can be in a precinct at once, and new poll observers are allowed to relieve their colleagues after four hours. 

The proposed change to this rule would limit the total number of people who could observe a polling site to three per day, eliminating a lot of the flexibility that parties have to make sure precincts are covered.  

The NCGOP said this added logistical burden would compromise the public’s faith in N.C. elections.

“Rather than attempt to shut down election integrity initiatives, we would suggest the NCSBE work towards providing greater access to party observers as well as the public. After all, additional oversight provides the electorate greater confidence in the process and the results,” the party wrote.

The billboard rule proposal would define billboards as anything larger than 2,160 square inches, or 3 feet by 5 feet — the size of a standard flag. Billboards are subject to a strict disclosure requirement, meaning they must include a statement of a certain size saying who paid for the product. People who display a billboard without the disclosure can be found guilty of a misdemeanor.

The rule change could open up people who fly a campaign flag or display a barn sign or something similar to these charges, the GOP says. Many people hand-make signs or flags to display at their homes and may or may not know about the disclosure requirement.

“The rights of our citizens to freely express their support for a candidate or an issue should, to the maximum extent possible, not be interfered with by the state,” the NCGOP wrote.

Before either change can go into effect, the rules must first be submitted to two months of public comment, including a public hearing on May 6. The State Board of Elections would then vote again on them.

The motions to send the new rules to public comment passed unanimously. However, board member Tommy Tucker, a Republican, pushed back on the billboard proposal. 

“To me, a billboard is a billboard on the interstate – that large,” Tucker said, initially recommending to table the rule. 

“Are we going to have the sign police out there checking to see with a tape measure and fining people?