A lawsuit filed by The Republican National Committee, the N.C. Republican Party, and Clay County GOP Chair Barbara Deas over state election rules comes just as early voting by mail began Thursday, Sept. 8.
The suit, filed Sept. 9, seeks to reign in what Republicans see as illegal tampering with election law by the Democrat-majority N.C. State Board of Elections (NCSBE), especially regarding the absentee-ballot deadline and limits on election observers.
“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 Chair Ronna McDaniel in a press release. “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.”
This coalition of national, state, and local GOP involved in the lawsuit specifically object to limits the NCSBE has placed on at-large elections observers associated with the state parties and to the moving of the absentee-ballot deadline from Nov. 11 to Nov. 14.
According to the lawsuit, NCSBE’s executive director Karen Brinson Bell issued a memo in August of 2022 directing county boards of elections to accept civilian absentee ballots through Nov. 14, even though the statutory deadline is Nov. 11. Brinson Bell defended the move by saying that because Nov. 11 is the Veterans’ Day holiday, they should be allowed to move the date to the next day of business.
In the Republican lawsuit, the plaintiffs say this “constitutes a unilateral, unlawful extension of the statutory deadlines” and “is in excess of the NCSBE’s authority.”
Patrick Gannon, the NCSBE’s public information director, responded to this assertion on Sept. 12 in comments to Carolina Journal:
“We generally wouldn’t want to comment on the pending lawsuit. However, I need to correct the misunderstanding that the board extended the absentee ballot deadline. The legislature did that by enacting GS 103-5. See Numbered Memo 2022-09, which explains why the law requires the receipt of absentee ballots on November 14, as November 11 is a state and federal holiday, when mail is not delivered. The same rule/deadline applied under a different administration in 2016.”
On the other main question brought by the lawsuit, whether the NCSBE is unlawfully limiting election-observer activity authorized by the state’s general statutes, the lawsuit says that the NCSBE created a rule that puts the state party’s 100 at-large observers under similar rules to county-level observers, who are limited by time and number.
The plaintiffs say there is no statutory justification for this rule, which was created by the NCSBE in 2018 but has not yet been heavily enforced. The Republicans who filed the lawsuit say they believe the rule will be enforced more this election and that it will interfere with their right to observe the process.