A North Carolina state court has rejected a push from Republicans including the national party organization (the Republican National Committee) for undoing certain regulations for handling the upcoming election.
The GOP court case challenged an extension of the deadline for receiving (not sending) mail-in ballots to November 14 from the 11th, which is Veterans Day. The Republicans also challenged regulations for election observers, including a requirement for only one at-large observer in a polling place at a time and another limiting at-large observers to four-hour stints before they have to leave. The time limit for at-large poll watchers, who have partisan backing and can go to any polling location, was lifted, but the limit on how many such observers can be in a polling place and on duty remains, as does the extended deadline for receiving mail-in ballots.
Vince Rozier Jr., the judge who decided the case, didn’t provide expansive reasoning, although he noted the North Carolina State Board of Elections — whose decisions about poll watchers and absentee ballots were the subject of this dispute — has relatively broad authority under state law, so long as (among other considerations) they don’t contradict certain portions of state law covering elections. “Plaintiffs failed to demonstrate a likelihood of success on the merits or that the balance of harms tipped in their favor with respect to their claims” regarding either the deadline for receiving mail-in ballots or the limit on a single at-large election observer per polling place at a time, as the judge put it. The extension on receiving mail-in ballots will help accommodate those whose votes are potentially impacted by delayed mail service. It doesn’t mean someone can postmark a ballot after Election Day.
Although it’s unclear how many ballots might be saved by moving the deadline, critical elections can be close. In Georgia in 2020, Biden won from among nearly five million votes by a margin of under 12,000. In North Carolina, a judge also rejected another GOP request for allowing signature matching requirements for mail-in ballots, meaning voters’ signatures would be matched with voter files when processing votes. Signature matching is an imprecise process that can unfairly impact marginalized voters like those are are disabled and elderly. Signatures also naturally change over time. In North Carolina, there is a race for U.S. Senate on the ballot this year, with the winner taking over the seat outgoing Republican Richard Burr is vacating. Democratic candidate Cheri Beasley and Trump-backed Republican Ted Budd have been tied in multiple polls since August. In other election-related court disputes, Republicans have also targeted the ability of Pennsylvania voters to fix certain issues with the submission of their mail-in ballots.
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