RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Republicans have sued the North Carolina State Board of Elections regarding rules for mail-in ballots and election observers, as the first ballots have begun going to voters ahead of the November election.

In the lawsuit, the national and state Republican Party argue the board’s executive director lacked the authority to extend the deadline for postmarked ballots to arrive at county election offices to be counted.

Executive Director Karen Brinson Bell sent a memo to local election officials on Aug. 17 about the issue.

In it, she notes that state law allows ballots that are postmarked by Election Day to be counted as long as they arrive at county election offices within three days of the election. However, this year that day is Nov. 11, which is Veterans Day and also a state and national holiday.

“Accordingly, when the deadline for the return of postmarked absentee ballots falls on a holiday, the deadline moves to the next business day,” she wrote in the memo, meaning that ballots can be accepted through Monday, Nov. 14.

“There’s no need when ballots are already accepted three days after Election Day to move the deadline to six days and nine days and so on and so forth,” said Danielle Alvarez, a spokesperson for the Republican National Committee. “What I think is important to North Carolinians and to voters in the Tar Heel State is that we have our election results as quickly as possible, so we can have those results and have transparency and be certain in the process.”

Pat Gannon, a spokesperson for the Board of Elections, pushed back on the assertion that the board acted outside of its authority, noting a separate state law dealing with the issue.

That statute reads, ”Except as otherwise provided by law, when the day or the last day for doing any act required or permitted by law to be performed in a public office or courthouse falls on a Saturday, Sunday, or legal holiday when the public office or courthouse is closed for transactions, the act may be performed on the next day that the public office or courthouse is open for transactions.”

Gannon also noted that in 2016, the same issue occurred when the deadline fell on Veterans Day. That year, when there was a Republican governor, the deadline also moved to Nov. 14.

When asked about why the change prompted a lawsuit this time, Alvarez said, “It lacks transparency, not only for those on the ballot but for voters who want to know who their elected leaders are.”

During the most recent legislative session, Republicans in the General Assembly passed a bill that would have moved the deadline to Election Day itself. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 30 states have a deadline on or before Election Day. Gov. Roy Cooper (D) vetoed that bill.

State Republicans also raised concerns in 2020 when the board settled a lawsuit that extended the grace period for mail-in ballots to nine days.

Republicans also sued the board regarding rules for at-large observers that the parties choose, in particular a requirement that they remain at a voting site for at least four hours before being relieved by someone else.

Marcus Bass, deputy director of the North Carolina Black Alliance, criticized the lawsuit, saying, “Honestly, I think it sounds unpatriotic for anyone not to make an exception around Veterans Day.”

“We know our United States Postal Service has delays. We know that they’re understaffed. We know that they’re overworked,” he said. “The State Board of Elections has given reasonable timelines for ballots to be turned in, and any attempt to undermine that is a stretch toward cutting the fabric of our democracy.”

Sunday voting

The alliance held a press conference Monday calling attention to another issue impacting the election.

They called on the State Board of Elections to approve early voting plans that will include the option to vote on Sundays during the early voting period, which runs for 17 days from Thursday, Oct. 20 to Saturday, Nov. 5.

In 13 counties, the local elections boards were unable to make a unanimous decision on their early voting schedule and sites, leaving the decision to the state to resolve. The state board will meet Tuesday morning.

Those 13 counties include Bladen, Brunswick, Chatham, Cumberland, Davidson, Lenoir, Lincoln, Martin, Nash, Pasquotank, Robeson, Surry and Union.

Rev. Dr. Gregory Moss, who organized “Souls to the Polls” initiatives when he was pastor of a church in Mecklenburg County said some voters need as many options as possible.

He said, “It makes sense not to hinder people from the opportunity to exercise their right to vote. And, we challenge the other counties that are dealing with this right now: why would you want to hinder somebody’s opportunity?”

Andy Jackson, who studies elections at the conservative John Locke Foundation, said some local officials have raised concerns about the cost.

“There is limited amount of manpower and money that each of these county boards, because all of this has to be paid for by the county boards of elections, so they have to make plans that will get maximum utility out of the resources they have,” he said.