State board of elections to require witness signatures on absentee ballots, ending one part of legal fight

By Carolina Journal Staff

Raleigh, NC – The State Board of Elections will send voters whose absentee ballots lack a witness signature a new ballot, restoring a process for mail-in votes that was tied up in state and federal courts.

Meanwhile, the N.C. Court of Appeals has ended its order blocking other provisions of a state election lawsuit settlement. The appeals court decision means election officials will count any mail-in ballots that arrive by Nov. 12, nine days after Election Day.

Chatham County, NC sample ballot

N.C. Solicitor General Ryan Park announced Sunday, Oct. 13, that the state board would let the ballot “cure” process take effect at noon Monday. The board had set aside several thousand mailed-in absentee ballots that lacked witness signatures as a legal fight over election rules plays out. Republican legislative leaders say Democratic activists tried to change election rules secretly without the General Assembly’s consent, as spelled out in Article I of the U.S. Constitution. The weekend agreement should end one part of the fight.

The union-backed group N.C. Alliance of Retired Americans filed a lawsuit, claiming absentee ballot limits set out in a bipartisan state election law this year were too onerous. The alliance is represented by Democrat super-litigator Marc Elias, whose Democracy Docket is funding lawsuits in more than a dozen states. Those suits would erode election safeguards.

In September, the elections board approved a settlement eliminating the witness signature, allowing unmanned drop boxes, and extending the deadline for receiving mail ballots from three days to nine days after the election. Two lawsuits filed in federal court challenged the settlement.

State Elections Board Executive Director Karen Brinson Bell has said unmanned drop boxes aren’t allowed.

A federal judge blocked the elections board’s earlier attempt to adopt a process that would allow elections officials to count absentee ballots submitted with no witness signature. That same judge refused to block any other part of the controversial lawsuit settlement.

In a statement, Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, said, “Thankfully … we can now move on with allowing voters to fix their absentee ballots.”

Republican legislative leaders have said they plan to continue to fight the settlement provision extending the counting of mailed-in ballots. State law sets a Nov. 6 cut-off date for those ballots to be eligible for counting.