Advocacy group files lawsuit over N.C. absentee ballot restrictions, asks for changes in light of coronavirus

Republican and unaffiliated voters in the 9th Congressional District cast ballots Tuesday to...
Republican and unaffiliated voters in the 9th Congressional District cast ballots Tuesday to decide which GOP candidate will face Democrat Dan McCready. (Source: WECT)
Updated: May. 4, 2020 at 11:14 PM EDT
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NORTH CAROLINA (WECT) - Seven North Carolina voters have filed a lawsuit against the state of North Carolina and the North Carolina State Board of Elections over the state’s absentee by mail voting regulations.

The suit was filed in Wake County Superior Court with the assistance of two advocacy groups — the Right to Vote Foundation and the National Redistricting Foundation — and by high-profile attorney Marc Elias, who once represented Hillary Clinton’s campaign and last year represented Democratic candidate Dan McCready in the Ninth Congressional District investigation.

In the complaint, the seven plaintiffs argue that the “four pillars” of North Carolina’s absentee voting law are unduly restrictive, and violate the state constitution’s provision of free and fair elections.

The plaintiffs argue that because of the novel coronavirus, the restrictions will make it unreasonably burdensome for people to vote by mail, even though doing so would allow for better adherence social distancing protocols.

Requirements for two witnesses or a notary, signature verification, the lack of pre-paid postage and the current absentee ballot receipt deadline are the aspects of the law the plaintiffs want changed.

“Taken together, these restrictions on mail ballots are at best unduly burdensome and pose significant risks to voters’ health and safety, and, at worst, impossible to comply with during a global pandemic, and will result in the disenfranchisement of an unprecedented number of North Carolinians, especially those who are medically and financially vulnerable,” the complaint reads.

The NCSBE has said it anticipates an absentee by mail turnout upward of 40% — roughly 10 times the usual turnout for that ballot type.

Plaintiffs allege the state has not acted to address these concerns, even in the face of what happened after the primary election in Wisconsin.

NCSBE Executive Director Karen Brinson Bell has already submitted a request to the general assembly asking for changes to the absentee requirements, most notably asking that the witness requirement be dropped to just one instead of two.

Bell has also asked the legislature for matching funds in order to make use of federal funding made available by the CARES Act.

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