Defending Democracy, News

Supreme Court rejects final GOP effort to limit count of absentee ballots in NC

Image: NC State Board of Elections

In case you missed it, the U.S. Supreme Court put what appears to be the final nail in the coffin of Republican efforts to reverse a court decision that will allow absentee ballots in North Carolina to be counted if they are received by Nov. 12 — provided they’re postmarked by Election Day. This from a story in the D.C newsletter The Hill:

The Supreme Court on Thursday denied a Republican bid to block a mail-ballot extension in North Carolina, a day after rejecting a similar GOP effort in the key battleground state.

The court’s three most conservative justices — Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch and Samuel Alito — would have granted the Republican request. Justice Amy Coney Barrett, who joined the bench Tuesday, took no part in considering the case.

The voting breakdown mirrored that of a similar Wednesday night ruling in which the court rejected an effort by the Trump campaign and North Carolina Republicans to reverse a six-day mail ballot due date extension.

Good government and voting rights advocates lauded the ruling. This is from Common Cause North Carolina:

Common Cause NC applauds U.S. Supreme Court decision letting stand extension for absentee ballots to be received in North Carolina

RALEIGH – The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday let stand an extended period by which mailed absentee ballots can be counted in North Carolina.

The State Board of Elections had approved an extension by which mailed absentee ballots postmarked on or before the Nov. 3 Election Day deadline can be received by county boards of elections. The extension allows ballots postmarked on or before Nov. 3 to be received through Nov. 12. In separate cases before it on Wednesday and Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court allowed that extension to remain in place for this year’s election.

The following is a statement from Bob Phillips, executive director of Common Cause NC:

“Today’s news from the U.S. Supreme Court is a victory for voters in our state. With a record increase in North Carolinians choosing to vote absentee by mail amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the common-sense decision by the State Board of Elections will help ensure that ballots postmarked on or before the Nov. 3 deadline are given sufficient time to arrive at county boards of elections and be properly counted.

“The extension does not change the deadline by which voters must mail back their absentee ballot – that remains Nov. 3. It simply helps make sure that voters who follow the rules and meet the Nov. 3 deadline won’t have their vote discarded due to a possible delay in mail delivery. That’s just fair.”

Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

Breaking: U.S. Supreme Court rejects GOP appeal of absentee ballot extension

Stacks of boxes holding mail are seen at a U.S. Post Office sorting center. Photo by Justin Sullivan | Getty Images

In a victory for voting rights groups and the state State Board of Elections and a defeat Republican legislative leaders, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled tonight that a court settlement that allowed the state to continue to receive absentee ballots until Nov. 12 will stand.

The high court’s ruling, which came in the case of Moore v. Circosta, featured a 5-3 vote in which Chief Justice Roberts was joined by Justices Kavanaugh, Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan in upholding a Fourth Circuit decision from earlier this week. Justices Gorsuch, Alito and Thomas dissented. Justice Barrett did not participate.

The ruling denying the GOP request to enjoin the lower court ruling did not feature a written explanation, though Justice Gorsuch authored a three-plus page dissent for himself and Justice Alito, in which he approvingly cited the argument of GOP lawmakers that it was improper for the State Board of Elections to extend the deadline six days beyond the General Assembly’s designated date of Nov. 6.

The ruling means North Carolinians whose absentee ballots are properly completed, postmarked by Nov. 3 and received by Nov. 12 will be counted.

According to Raleigh’s News & Observer, “more than 1.45 million voters requested absentee by-mail ballots and more than half (over 819,363) had returned them as of Wednesday morning.”

Not everyone who requested an absentee ballot must vote that way. Many voters have been exercising their option to discard the absentee ballot and vote in person — either at an early voting site or at their regular polling place next Tuesday. Early voting will conclude this coming Saturday at 3:00 p.m.

Earlier today, the Court also rejected a request from Pennsylvania Republicans to expedite consideration of their request to shut off counting ballots on Nov. 3. The ruling, for now allows the state to continue counting ballots received through Nov. 6, but the Court could still take action to approve the GOP request and the state will segregate ballots received after Nov. 3 to be on the safe side. The Court previously approved an effort by the GOP to halt counting on Election Day in Wisconsin.

Defending Democracy

As the CEOs for Facebook, Twitter and Google appear before Congress, NC’s House Dems call for an end to false political ads

Representatives David Price (NC-04), G. K. Butterfield (NC-01) and Alma Adams (NC-12) have sent a letter to Facebook pressing the social media giant to take immediate action against deceptive advertising in the final days of the election cycle.

Representatives David Price (NC-04), Alma Adams (NC-12) and G. K. Butterfield (NC-01)

The three worry that misleading content can cause confusion and undermine the fairness of the election process.

“With potentially millions of voters exposed to deceptive political advertising on its platform, Facebook has a duty to ensure it does not become a vector for disinformation. In the critical days leading up to the 2020 election, we’re asking Facebook to immediately confront these troubling reports and take action to protect the health of our democracy,” said Congressman Price.

The lawmakers point to more than a dozen ads from the Super PAC America First Action that were selectively edited to show Kamala Harris appear to be condoning violent riots. Another debunked ad was edited to leave the viewer with a false impression about Joe Biden’s stance on raising taxes.

And while the ads in question were misleading, they gathered an estimated 441,000 impressions in North Carolina.

Congresswoman Alma Adams likened the spread of false political ads to the coronavirus.

“Facebook has become a super spreader of misleading viral and paid content. Companies like Facebook are responsible for the content they lend a platform to, especially when that platform is paid for.”

The three North Carolina representatives are calling on Facebook to enforce their stated policy of prohibiting ads that include claims debunked by third-party fact checkers.

They also want Facebook to commit to fact-checking every political ad before it goes live between now and the time the results of the election are confirmed.

The push for Facebook to clean-up its advertising comes as the CEOs for Facebook, Twitter, and Google will appear virtually before a Senate committee Wednesday to discuss Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

Read the the full letter by Price, Adams and Butterfield here.

Click here to watch the Senate Committee hearing live streamed starting at 10:00am Wednesday.

Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

Tillis, Burr embrace Barrett, as conservative Supreme Court Justice is sworn in

Amy Coney Barrett was sworn in Monday evening by Justice Clarence Thomas.

Amy Coney Barrett is officially the newest member of the U.S. Supreme Court. Barrett was sworn in by Justice Clarence Thomas Monday evening at a White House ceremony, just hours after a 52-48 vote in the U.S. Senate.

“The oath that I have solemnly taken tonight means at its core that I will do my job without any fear or favor,” pledged Barrett in her prepared remarks.

Barrett’s swift confirmation came with the support of North Carolina Senators Richard Burr and Thom Tillis. (Four years ago, both men opposed Merrick Garland, President Obama’s nomination to the highest court.)

“Judge Barrett has proven to be an exceptionally qualified and well-respected jurist,” said Burr in a statement released by his office. “Throughout her distinguished career, she has demonstrated that she will faithfully serve as an impartial judge to defend the Constitution and rule of law. I am pleased to support Judge Barrett’s confirmation today and I am confident she will serve Americans with ability and integrity.”

Senator Tillis who has made Barrett’s confirmation a centerpiece of his re-election bid offered only glowing remarks:

Barrett’s swearing in came 38 days after the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and eight day before the presidential election.

Sen. Susan Collins of Maine was the only Republican who voted “no” on the confirmation.

This is a developing story and we will have more reaction on Tuesday.

Commentary, Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy

Fourth Circuit’s 12-3 ruling on mailed ballots begs question: What are Berger and Moore afraid of?

House Speaker Tim Moore (L) and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger (R)

As you’ve probably heard by now, a series of state and federal judges has now approved a court settlement that will allow ballots cast by mail in our state to be counted if they’re postmarked by Election Day and received by Nov. 12.

Late yesterday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit sitting en banc ruled that the extension of time was permissible. The vote to reject the position argued by Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore that the votes should not be counted was 12-3.

As Judge James Wynn wrote for the majority:

“There is no irreparable harm from a ballot extension: again, everyone must submit their ballot by the same date. The extension merely allows more lawfully cast ballots to be counted, in the event there are any delays precipitated by an avalanche of mail-in ballots.” (Emphasis in the original.)

Three judges appointed by President Trump joined the majority.

Of course, the very fact that this issue is even the subject of great debate and consternation serves as a remarkable commentary on the views of North Carolina’s conservative legislative leaders. Simply put: what in the heck are they afraid of? Why doesn’t it make sense to count all the mailed ballots that are cast by Election Day — especially at this moment in which the Postal Service is struggling mightily?

After all, courts intervene in elections all the time to make sure everyone gets a chance to vote. During just about every election a judge has to order certain precincts to stay open late because of machine malfunctions or some other snafu — often at the behest of Republican politicians and candidates. What’s the difference here?

Allowing more time won’t cause confusion — it will assure that every vote gets counted and that officials have time to get things completely right. Final, official results aren’t normally certified until several days after the election anyway.

And don’t tell us that the Berger-Moore effort to prevent the state from counting all the votes is about “the integrity of the lawmaking process.” No, these two men long ago forfeited their right to ever make such an argument during their many years of running roughshod over dissenting lawmakers at the General Assembly. Whether they were shutting down debate time and again or even purporting to pass a budget veto override while nearly every Democratic member was out of the House chamber, we’ve seen what these two men really think about the integrity of the legislative process.

The bottom line: The Court of Appeals’ ruling is a victory for democracy and the rights of all North Carolina voters of all political parties.