RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Democrats criticized a request by the state Republican Party calling for a change in how mail-in ballots are verified Tuesday, as the state Board of Elections prepared to consider the request. 

The NCGOP filed the request last month, asking for the state board to allow counties to utilize signature matching to scrutinize absentee ballot requests and absentee ballot return envelopes, a practice that’s done in 27 other states, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.  

“We can also see scrutiny of signature matching can be a way to throw out valid ballots,” said Sen. Jay Chaudhuri (D-Wake). “There’s been huge scrutiny and unjust criticism of mail-in ballots, which we know helped our state achieve a 75 percent turnout rate (in the 2020 election).” 

Amid the pandemic, North Carolina saw an unprecedented increase in the use of mail-in voting. Former President Donald Trump frequently cast doubt on the legitimacy of the practice, and state election officials pushed back, saying it is a secure way to vote. 

North Carolina requires voters to have two people sign as witnesses on their ballot or have a notary public do that. The state is among nine that have a witness requirement.  

“By accepting an absentee ballot request form without fully verifying the voter’s signature, a board member is neglecting his or her duties, as set out by the General Assembly, for which they swore an oath to uphold,” attorneys for the state Republican Party wrote in their request – click here to view.

Andy Jackson, who studies elections at the conservative John Locke Foundation, supports the concept of requiring signature matching.  

“It’d be an additional layer of security,” he said. “I don’t see it as a substitute for the witness requirement, but it’ll help. It’s like, just because you have an alarm at your home, you still lock the door.” 

Jackson raised concerns about the potential for counties to have the choice about whether to implement it, noting that would mean voters have different requirements in different parts of the state. 

“There should be at least some basic level of equality in how the counties handle it. Otherwise, you’re going to run into 14th Amendment problems where some voters are treated differently than other voters,” he said. 

Critics of the concept say it could lead to untrained election workers not counting legitimate ballots. 

“So, instead of finding more reasons to throw them out, let’s just utilize the system we already have in place,” said Sen. Natalie Murdock (D-Durham). 

The North Carolina State Board of Elections is taking public comment through July 5 and could consider a ruling on the request in mid-July.  

Sens. Murdock and Chaudhuri also introduced a bill this week that would increase penalties for intimidating voters and election officials, noting a rise in that behavior in the 2020 election and following it. It also allows for election workers to sue for civil damages.  

A recent report by the Brennan Center for Justice found one out of three election officials reported feeling unsafe because of their job. Additionally, nearly one in five cited threats to their lives as a concern. 

“We must make sure the ballot box is not won through violence like what we saw on January 6th,” said Sen. Chaudhuri. “This legislation ensures that elections in the future are decided by voters, not intimidation, threats or even violence.” 

The bill also would not allow third-parties to conduct forensic audits of election results, requires election observers to undergo training and would protect election workers’ personally identifiable information in public records requests. 

“This is going to be an invitation for groups to make a lot of claims about this, and it’s in essence intimidation of election observers,” said Jackson. “That kind of lawyering up that you would get would be really unfortunate if it were to pass.”