NC voters backed by Democratic groups file lawsuit over absentee ballot restrictions during COVID-19 pandemic

A group of North Carolina voters backed by funding from two well-known Democratic groups filed a lawsuit today challenging restriction on voting by mail.

The lawsuit, which is supported by the Right to Vote Foundation and the National Redistricting Foundation (NRF), cites the COVID-19 pandemic as creating or exacerbating issues related to North Carolina’s existing absentee voting procedures. Specifically, it challenges the state’s ballot postage requirements, witness requirements, the deadline by which election officials must receive mailed ballots, and the rules and procedures around signature matching.

The case was filed in the Wake County Superior Court making claims under the state constitution of North Carolina.

“This case could not be more urgent,” said said Eric H. Holder, Jr., former U.S. Attorney and current head of the NRF. “The state must begin preparations now to ensure that the procedures necessary for increased vote at home and safe in person voting are in place for the citizens of North Carolina. The voters in this state must not be forced to choose between protecting the community’s health and their right to vote.”

Lawmakers have not yet taken up any voting or election changes this session, despite passing a $1.6 billion COVID relief bill over the weekend. The absentee ballot requirements currently in place were passed after an illegal scheme was uncovered in the 9th Congressional District midterm election in 2018.

J.B. Poersch of the Right to Vote Foundation said Wisconsin, which held an election during the pandemic, has shown that states need to do all they can to ensure the health and safety of residents who want vote.

“We must act now to lift these burdensome restrictions so that North Carolina is appropriately prepared for the influx of absentee voting in November as our nation deals with the COVID-19 crisis,” he said.

The State Board of Elections has said it expects a 40 percent increase in the use of mail ballots and recently made a number of recommendations to the General Assembly to ease the burdens.

The lawsuit asks the court to require the state to provide pre-paid postage on all absentee ballots and ballot request so that voters are not forced to pay for casting a ballot; to enjoin the requirement that a voter must have two witnesses or a notary verify a ballot; to extend the deadline for mail ballots to be received nine days after Election Day, which matches the deadline for military-overseas ballots; and to block election officials from rejecting ballots for signature discrepancies without giving a voter the chance to fix the issue.

The Right to Vote Foundation is a nonprofit that makes grants to support voting rights litigation, and Advance Carolina, a Black-led nonprofit organization with a mission to build political and economic power in Black communities and institutions in North Carolina. It already filed a lawsuit earlier this year over absentee voting restrictions.

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