North Carolina Election Observers and Absentee Ballot Return Deadline Challenge
Deas v. North Carolina State Board of Elections
Lawsuit filed by the Republican National Committee, the North Carolina Republican Party and the chairwoman of the Clay County Republican Party against the North Carolina State Board of Elections (NCSBE) challenging both the NCSBE’s extension of the absentee ballot return deadline for the upcoming November election by three days due to Veterans Day as well as the NCSBE’s enforcement of regulations on partisan at-large election observers. In their complaint, the plaintiffs argue that the receipt deadline for absentee ballots prescribed by North Carolina law is three days after Election Day. However, they assert that the NCSBE’s guidance extending the absentee ballot receipt deadline from Nov. 11 to Nov. 14 due to Veterans Day, which is Nov. 11, “constitutes a unilateral, unlawful extension of the statutory deadline by which Boards of Election may accept civilian absentee-by-mail ballots” that is contrary to North Carolina law. The plaintiffs further contend that the NCSBE is exceeding its authority and usurping the North Carolina General Assembly’s authority to regulate elections under the Elections Clause of the U.S. Constitution, raising the radical independent state legislature theory.
Additionally, the plaintiffs claim that another NCSBE guidance that applies a four-hour, one observer rule for at-large partisan election observers violates North Carolina law and the plaintiffs’ due process rights. This rule specifically imposes a four-hour requirement regarding the amount of time that at-large partisan election observers — party-designated observers who are permitted to attend any polling place on Election Day — may spend at a given polling site on Election Day and only allows for one at-large observer to be present at a given polling place at a time. The plaintiffs argue that North Carolina law only limits the number of polling places that voting place-specific observers — but not at-large observers — may visit on Election Day. The plaintiffs request that the court block the enforcement of the NCSBE guidance regulating at-large partisan election observers and extending the absentee ballot receipt deadline by three days.
On Oct. 13, a judge ruled from the bench and denied two of the Republicans’ requests to shorten the absentee ballot return window and to have more than one at-large poll observer in a polling site at a time. This means that the ballot receipt deadline remains Nov. 14 and only one at-large poll observer can be in a polling place at a time. The judge granted the Republicans’ request to remove the four-hour minimum time requirement for at-large poll observers.