GOP Sues North Carolina Board of Elections over Absentee Ballot Date Change and Observer Rule

The Republican National Committee (RNC) joined the North Carolina Republican Party in a lawsuit filed in state court last Friday against the North Carolina State Board of Elections (NCSBE) and six of its officials.

The lawsuit centers around a recent deadline extension for absentee ballots issued by NCBSE, as well as guidance issued by the Board in 2016 that requires an “at-large” observer to work at a voting site for at least four hours before they can be replaced.

“The NCSBE continues to undermine the democratic process with unlawful rulemaking and further restrict the rights of election observers, threatening the integrity of our elections,” RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel stated in a Sept. 9 press release.

Last month, NCSBE Executive Director Karen Brinson Bell extended the absentee ballot deadline from Nov. 11 through the weekend to Nov. 14. GOP officials contend that this move violates election law requiring absentee mail-in ballots to be received “not later than three days after the election by 5:00 p.m.”

In her decision to extend the deadline to Nov. 14, Bell cited a state law permitting transactions scheduled to fall on a holiday to be performed on the next day government offices reopen. Since Nov. 11 is Veteran’s Day this year, she extended the deadline through the weekend to Nov. 14.

In 2016, when Election Day was also Nov. 8, the NCSBE issued a similar delay.

In the lawsuit, Republicans claim that Bell’s actions violate the U.S. Constitution, which grants each individual state the authority to determine “[t]he Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives.”

The lawsuit also details the GOP’s claim that the NCSBE wrongly imposed restrictions requiring at-large observers to remain at voting cites for four hours before they can be replaced, a policy that, according to Republicans, makes it difficult to fill volunteer gaps at the polls.

The GOP emphasized the importance of observers in maintaining election integrity.

“If observers are restricted from actually seeing or hearing important aspects of the election administration process, then they can be left with doubts and cannot attest to accuracy,” the GOP stated in the lawsuit. “Thus, the purposes of election observation are defeated by restrictions that prevent meaningful observation and discernment.”

The NCSBE sent out absentee ballots last Friday, the same day the lawsuit was filed. The Board indicated that an estimated 63,000 absentee ballots have been requested so far, with about 13% of them going to registered Republicans and a little more than 50% going to registered Democrats.