The North Carolina Republican Party (NCGOP), along with the chair of the Clay County Republican Party and the Republican National Committee (RNC), filed a lawsuit against the state’s Board of Elections (NCSBE) on Friday for allegedly “unlawful actions restricting party election observers and extending the delivery deadline for absentee ballots.”
According to the lawsuit, the plaintiffs accuse the NCSBE of “undermining both transparency and the rule of law by blocking the right of at-large election observers to have full access to voting places and unilaterally extending the deadline for the return of absentee-by-mail ballots.”
“While Chapter 163 of the North Carolina General Statutes grants certain powers and duties to the NCSBE, those powers and duties are also limited by the specific election laws,” the lawsuit reads. “As such, the NCSBE is not the final arbiter of election law in North Carolina; rather, it must exercise its authority in accordance with the statutes that grant it such power. Recent decisions of the NCSBE, however, have flouted its authority under the law.”
The Republican groups go on to note that under North Carolina state law, “in addition to voting place-specific election observers, the chair of each political party in each county can designate up to ten (10) at-large election observers ‘who are residents of that county who may attend any voting place in that county'” and “‘[t]he chair of each political party in the State shall have the right to designate up to 100 additional at-large observers who are residents of the State who may attend any voting place in the State.'”
“[I]n 2018, the NCSBE adopted an administrative rule which, among other things, purported to apply the four-hour, one observer restrictions to at-large observers in addition to voting place-specific observers,” the lawsuit reads. “Now, after the 2018 and 2020 elections, the NCSBE has issued written guidance for the 2022 election cycle indicating that it will attempt to enforce the four-hour, one observer restrictions on at-large observers in the November elections.”
This “constitutes a unilateral, unlawful application of the restrictions beyond the provisions” found in state law, the GOP plaintiffs claim.
In addition to restricting election observers’ access to the electoral process, the lawsuit also details how the NCSBE has illegally extended the deadline by which counties can accept mail-in, absentee ballots.
“N.C. Gen. Stat. § 163-231(b)(2) provides that civilian absentee-by-mail ballots ‘shall not be accepted’ if they are received later than 5:00 p.m. on the date of the election unless (1) they ‘are received by the county board of elections not later than three days after the election by 5:00 p.m.’; or (2) federal law so requires. The 2022 general election is scheduled to occur on Tuesday, November 8, 2022. Thus, the deadline for receipt of civilian-absentee-ballots is Friday, November 11, 2022.” the lawsuit reads. “On August 17, 2022, however, NCSBE Executive Director Karen Brinson Bell issued Numbered Memo 2022-09, which provides guidance to County Boards of Election that they are to accept civilian absentee-by-mail ballots through Monday, November 14, 2022, on the grounds that November 11, 2022, is the Veterans Day holiday.”
“The guidance in Numbered memo 2022-09 constitutes a unilateral, unlawful extension of the statutory deadline by which Boards of Election may accept civilian absentee-by-mail ballots, is contrary to N.C. Gen. Stat. § 163-231(b), and thus is in excess of the NCSBE’s authority,” the lawsuit concludes.
“The NCSBE continues to undermine the democratic process with unlawful rulemaking and further restrict the rights of election observers, threatening the integrity of our elections,” said RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel in a statement. “This lawsuit is the latest development in the RNC and NCGOP’s ongoing fight to preserve transparency in North Carolina elections and stop unelected bureaucrats from rewriting the law in the Tar Heel State.”
County Republican activists have submitted more than 500 public comments to the NCSBE in opposition to the recently proposed rule changes, according to an RNC press release.