Republicans get partial win in NC court over poll observers
A North Carolina judge gave a partial legal victory on Thursday to state and national Republicans by agreeing to loosen restrictions on activity by some party-appointed poll observers.
Wake County Superior Court Judge Vince Rozier granted one of the party's two requests related to the work of “at-large” observers chosen by political parties and who are allowed to monitor more than one voting site. A second request seeking the use of more than one such observer simultaneously at a location was denied, according to a GOP leader and the State Board of Elections, which is a lawsuit defendant.
Rozier also refused another GOP demand that he block the State Board of Elections from extending the fall absentee-ballot receipt deadline based on the Veterans Day holiday on Nov. 11, board spokesperson Pat Gannon said.
The GOP won in a portion of the litigation filed last month requesting a preliminary injunction on state board guidance that requires an at-large observer to work for at least four hours before they can be replaced at a voting site. Other observers, which are also picked by the political parties, are assigned to specific precincts. Early in-person voting for the Nov. 8 election begins Oct. 20.
The Republicans contend the four-hour requirement for at-large observers doesn’t align with state law and makes it hard for the party to fill volunteer gaps at voting sites and precincts by moving them to other locales.
North Carolina GOP Chairman Michael Whatley said in an interview that the party has held more than 300 training sessions this year and recruited and trained more than 7,500 volunteer poll watchers for the November elections. He has declined to allow reporters to attend the training sessions.
“As long as the injunction remains in place, we regard this as a win,” Whatley said Thursday. “We did not think that the Board of Elections had the authority to put the rule in place. For the life of me, I cannot understand why the Board of Elections is continuing to take steps to try and limit the transparency in the voting areas."
Election officials across the country, including several in North Carolina, have expressed concerns that a surge of conspiracy believers are signing up for poll watcher positions this year and are being trained by those who have propagated the lie spread by former President Donald Trump and his allies that the 2020 presidential election was riddled with fraud.
Gannon said the board hadn't yet decided whether it would appeal the ruling. The GOP was unsuccessful in getting Rozier to ease a rule that allows no more than one at-large observer to work inside a voting site at any time.
The GOP plaintiffs had argued board Executive Director Karen Brinson Bell lacked authority to move the absentee ballot deadline from Nov. 11 to Nov. 14. State law says county election offices must receive civilian absentee ballots by the third day after Election Day — either in person or in the mail if the ballot was postmarked by Election Day, which is Nov. 8 this year.
Whatley said the absentee deadline challenge was “no where near as important” as the rulings on election observer limits.
Bell's memo cited another state law that gave her authority to extend the deadline because of Veterans Day. Offices are closed and mail isn't delivered. A similar absentee-ballot weekend delay was ordered in the November 2016 election.