The election board of North Carolina issued new guidance this week essentially giving voters a second chance if they screw up filling out their absentee ballot. With the logic being that, you know, there’s a global pandemic going on at the moment and a lot of folks are voting by mail for the first time, so mistakes are bound to happen. And to absolutely no one’s surprise, the Trump administration is not having it.
Donald Trump’s campaign committee and the U.S. Republican National Committee filed a lawsuit Saturday to bar state election officials from enforcing these new regulations, the Associated Press reports. They maintain that this new system “invites fraud, coercion, theft, and otherwise illegitimate voting” by waiving the requirement for a witness signature and letting voters cast absentee ballots late — neither of which is actually true. But then again, when have facts ever stopped the GOP from blustering about dog-whistle issues?
In reality, the change means that North Carolina voters won’t have to fill out a completely new ballot for November’s presidential election if they fail to fill theirs out correctly the first time. North Carolina is one of eight states that require a witness or notary signature on absentee ballots for that vote to be counted, according to the Brennan Centre for Justice.
Now, thanks to these new rules, if your ballot is marked incomplete because it doesn’t have all the necessary information about the witness who verified it, you can just submit an affidavit confirming that you filled out the original ballot. No need to find a new witness or start the entire process over again. Most important of all, your vote isn’t thrown out over a technicality.
But the Republican’s lawsuit paints these changes as a partisan “backroom deal” by the state election board aimed at circumventing the requirement for a witness signature altogether and thwarting state lawmakers’ “carefully-considered, balanced structure of election laws,” per the AP.
“While touted as allowing greater access to voters during the current pandemic — an objective already addressed in recent months by the General Assembly — the actual effect is to undermine protections that help ensure the upcoming election will be not only safe and accessible but secure, fair, and credible,” the lawsuit reads.
The Republican-led North Carolina General Assembly also announced this weekend that they filed a similar lawsuit in federal court against state election board members and asked a judge to block enforcement of the new system, the AP reports. They argue that it usurps the legislature’s constitutional duty to establish federal election regulations.
But all this fuss and pearl-clutching can’t distract from the fact that this is yet another example of the GOP doing its best to suppress voters and particularly voters of colour. Black voters account for roughly 43 per cent of those classified as having incomplete witness information, according to state elections data publicized last week. And while Trump’s approval rating among Black voters was already garbage at the beginning of the year, it tanked even further after his god-awful response to ongoing protests against police brutality.
It seems as though attacking the United States Postal Service wasn’t enough to completely disenfranchise anyone who isn’t willing or able to visit a polling place in November. So now it’s evident that right-wing officials are trying the next best thing: capitalising on all the uncertainty and confusion forged from having a presidential election in the middle of a pandemic to discount as many votes as possible.
State election board spokesperson Patrick Gannon told the Associated Press that the board is reviewing the litigation.