Federal court ruling requires witness signature on absentee ballots in North Carolina

Joanna Estrada
October 20, 2020

In response to this request, on October 1, the N.C. Board of Elections requested that county boards of elections stop processing absentee ballots with a missing witness signature, holding some voters' ballots in limbo.

Judge William Osteen issued an injunction requiring state officials to revise a directive issued September 22 that let voters to fix a lack of a witness signature by returning an affidavit, but without starting a new ballot over and having it witnessed again. North Carolina State Board of Elections, came to the court from the Eastern District of North Carolina after it issued Temporary Restraining Orders (TROs) in both cases on October 3.

A higher court could still weigh in.

However, the court was bound to deny the injunctions under Purcell v.Gonzales, though it felt the Plaintiffs were entitled to them. "However, in the middle of an election, less than a month before Election Day itself, this court can not cause "judicially created confusion" by changing election rules". "Today's holding preserves this legal victory and allows for consistent absentee cure administration across North Carolina's 100 counties, providing absentee voters with the assurances they need to trust their votes cast will be counted and any deficiencies can be resolved efficiently".

North Carolina is one of several states that flag early ballots when voters fill them out incorrectly. He also declined to alter an extended deadline for county boards to accept absentee ballots after Election Day as long as they are postmarked by November 3.

Texas and OH are two of the states seeing lawsuits challenging ballot drop boxes.

"Judge Osteen concluded in no uncertain terms that the N.C. State Board of Elections violated the U.S. Constitution and North Carolina law by changing election laws after ballots had already been cast", said Senate Leader Phil Berger (R-Eden). "Judge Osteen was right to stop the Board's elimination of the absentee ballot witness requirement. We disagree with his determination that he lacks the power to block some of the other tenets of the Board's illegal settlement". Still, Berger said he believes that the judge could have gone further and said he wouldn't rule out taking the case as far as the the U.S. Supreme Court.

Brown said prior to the August 21 ballot curing guidelines set by the N.C. State Board of Elections, North Carolina did not have a uniform ballot curing process. "You don't change the rules midway through the game", Moore said.

"North Carolinians can have confidence a bipartisan witness requirement for absentee ballots has been upheld by federal courts, in a win for the democratic process against unacceptable partisan collusion conducted by the Democratic Attorney General and Hillary Clinton's partisan lawyer", said Moore.

"Right now I'm weak in the knees because I'm wondering why my ballot is not going through and nobody's really telling me anything", North Carolina resident Hassan Hakim told CBS News' chief Washington correspondent Major Garrett. "And plaintiff voters in this case and in Wise are likely to succeed on their claims under the Equal Protection clause". Already, more than 530,000 North Carolinians have cast their ballots by mail. For those who don't want to vote by mail, early voting sites in North Carolina are open from October 15 through October 31.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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