State of Elections

William & Mary Law School | Election Law Society

Opinion: North Carolina Voter Suppression, the Trump Campaign and the North Carolina Republican Party

By Maxwell Weiss

We are two weeks away from a presidential election with once-in-a-century, massive turnout, and the North Carolina Republican Party is continuing their decades-long effort to suppress votes. In past years, the GOP has used voter ID laws, racial gerrymandering, and in 2018, the first recorded instance of a federal election being called off over voter fraud in United States history. This year, the GOP weaponizes strict absentee voting laws as they try to suppress enough votes for President Trump to win the state.

President Trump himself is attempting to sow discord, specifically suggesting that North Carolina voters try to vote twice to “test” the system. In a September campaign rally, the President told voters to send in an absentee ballot and then go to the polls and vote again on election day. This is part of a larger pattern for Trump, who routinely spreads false information about widespread fraud despite clear evidence that there is absolutely no basis for conspiracy theories that absentee voting leads to election fraud.

While President Trump campaigns on lies in North Carolina, the state’s archaic law requires absentee voters to mark their ballots with a witness present; one of eight states that maintains a baseless witness requirement. There are thousands of new absentee voters in the Tar Heel State because of the obvious risks associated with voting in-person during the pandemic. Despite North Carolina ranking top 25 in the world for worst COVID-19 outbreaks, the state’s Republican Party joined the Trump campaign in court to stop voters from “curing” their improperly witnessed ballots.

In early October, 6,800 absentee ballots, 3,300 of which were cast by people of color, hung in limbo because of witness signature issues. Political scientist Michael Blitzer told NPR that 61% of ballots that need to be fixed are from Democrats, compared to 18% from Republicans (the remainder are from unaffiliated voters). The North Carolina Board of Elections said in September that voters could cure their mistakes by sending in an affidavit to county election officials.

However, the Trump campaign and North Carolina Republicans appealed a state court decision that approved the Board of Elections plan that allowed curing, calling it an attempt to “undermine protections that help ensure the upcoming election will be not only safe and accessible but secure, fair, and credible.” The North Carolina GOP went further, forcing out Republican Board of Elections members Ken Raymond and David Black. The two men voted for more lenient mail-in voting rules, then resigned the next day in protest of those same rules.

The Trump campaign and Republican Party efforts to discount mail-in votes failed when George W. Bush appointee Judge William Osteen issued a decision last week that allows ballot curing for small errors like misplaced witness signatures. The order upheld the single witness requirement, but voting rights activists and lawyers called this a win for their clients who will now maintain their right to vote.

North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein issued an update October 19, announcing the federal ruling that the State Board of Elections can continue accepting cured ballots after weeks of limbo. With two short weeks until election day, voters should have enough time to rectify their mistakes.

If you are voting absentee in North Carolina and are concerned about your ballot, the Board of Elections issued important guidance  for how to cure your absentee ballot.

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1 Comment

  1. Stuart Bernstein

    October 24, 2020 at 5:52 pm

    That is a great understanding of the issues facing people in this State and elsewhere. Suppression is not the way to make this work, and the NC GOP should suffer the consequences. When things change on November 3rd, I hope the GOP understands, “What goes around comes around.”

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