Weekend before election yields higher turnout, complaints

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With 24 hours to go before Election Day and early voting ended, complaints are surfacing about suspicious giveaways and behavior around the polls. With more than 2.1 million ballots cast across the state at the close of early voting Saturday, the N.C. State Board of Elections is reportedly investigating eight complaints of what some accusers call “voter intimidation.”

Exceeding 2018’s early vote totals, early voting numbers show that more than 2 million of those votes cast so far were in the early voting period, and 143,701 are mail-in. Democrats account for more than 821,000 votes, and Republican ballots account for just under 674,000. Mail-in ballots will continue to come in, but early voting ended Saturday.

Among the allegations surfacing over the weekend: concerns about Democrat groups at the polls offering free food to those who voted. State law forbids giving “any money, property, or other thing of value whatsoever” as a condition of voting.

A group called Informed Voters of North Carolina, which identifies itself as dedicated to supporting conservative candidates, reported that a group called StackedPAC was at the East Market early voting site in Greensboro giving away food and swag to those who cast a ballot.

“This group was set up right at the Curbside voting area. They had buses bring individuals up to their table,” said Marcus Kindley, president of IVNC. “As they stepped off the bus, they were immediately greeted, given doughnuts, and water bottles (bling), along with filling out paperwork before going in to vote. They also set up so that regular individuals would not approach them.”

StackedPAC is a national political action committee, filed at the federal level, focusing on 18 states, including North Carolina. Andy Jackson, director of the Civitas Center for Public Integrity at the John Locke Foundation, provided details about the election law rules in a blog post over the weekend.

“A search of reports at the State Board of Elections (SBE) reveals nothing from the StackedPAC, not even a statement of organization,” wrote Jackson. “Federal-only organizations are normally outside the scope of state campaign finance laws. However, operating a merchandise-for-voting table outside an early voting site affects state and local, as well as federal, campaigns, so their failure to file reports with the SBE violates North Carolina’s campaign finance law (G.S. 163-278.9).”

The NCSBE has been focused in recent months on heading off accusations of poll worker impropriety and mishandling of ballots, advising county boards to make the daily opening procedure at voting sites, in addition to tabulation data, available to the public.

“It is a good practice to also post absentee tabulator results tapes for inspection at the county board office in a similar fashion,” the NCSBE wrote in an October memo. “Any member of the public is permitted to photograph or video any posted results tapes — when the tapes are posted, the counting process is no longer ongoing.”

Throughout the election season the NCSBE has been releasing “Mythbuster Monday” press releases addressing common complaints, illustrating the page with a Bigfoot image.

The state elections board reports that, as of the close of early voting on Saturday, the number of ballots cast exceeded the last midterm election.

On Monday afternoon leaders of NCSBE will hold a press conference to answer last-minute questions ahead of Election Day. Executive director Karen Brinson Bell and general counsel Paul Cox will speak to the media from the state Emergency Operations Center at 3 p.m.