Lawsuit could impact how voters are able to correct mistakes with absentee-by-mail ballots

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RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – With ballots already on the way to voters, a new lawsuit filed this week could impact how voters are able to correct mistakes with absentee-by-mail ballots. 

Democrats filed the lawsuit Tuesday in Wake County regarding the state’s rules that would require someone to fill out a new ballot if there’s an issue with how the voter’s witness filled out their information on the return envelope. 

“We are in the midst of a pandemic that we haven’t seen in a century,” said Democratic Party Chairman Wayne Goodwin. “We need the uniformity and flexibility to ensure that every eligible vote is cast and that no one is disenfranchised.” 

A memo on Aug. 21 from the NC State Board of Elections outlines the processes county boards of elections have to take if there are errors with a mail-in ballot. 

If the voter did not sign their name or signed it in the wrong place, election officials are supposed to contact that voter and allow them to correct the issue (“cure the ballot”) with an affidavit. The voter can submit that affidavit by: fax, email, in person, by mail or by commercial carrier. 

One witness is also required to sign and print their name and address. 

If there’s an error involving the witness (e.g. the witness failed to sign their name), the ballot must be “spoiled.” The voter must be notified in writing. That person would have to fill out a new ballot, either by mail or in-person at a voting site. 

“There is not time to reissue a ballot if it would be mailed the Friday before the election, October 30, 2020, or later,” reads the memo from the Board of Elections.

Absentee ballots must be postmarked by 5 p.m. on Election Day, Nov. 3.  

Democrats who filed the lawsuit Tuesday say the process is unconstitutional and are trying to bar county boards of elections from rejecting mail-in ballots where there are issues with the witness requirements, saying the process to correct them should be similar to the one correcting an issue with the voter’s signature and should be handled quickly enough to ensure the votes are counted. 

 “We are essentially wanting to ensure that every voter can cast their ballot safely and legally and have a uniform process so voters can cure their ballots in a timely manner,” Goodwin said. “An election isn’t free and fair if the voters have to choose between staying safe from a deadly virus or putting themselves at risk from voting in person. So, it’s imperative as we see from this lawsuit that we filed that we have uniformity.” 

A spokesperson for the state Board of Elections declined to comment Wednesday. 

The lawsuit is the latest in a series of legal challenges surrounding the state’s election laws, as North Carolina is a crucial swing state in the fall election. 

“I think it’s disappointing that we’re seeing from the Democrats again and again and again they’re trying to change the rules when we’re already in the middle of an election cycle,” said NC Republican Party Chairman Michael Whatley. “The fact that ballots have gone out, voting is taking place, this is not the time to have that conversation. We certainly hope the courts will agree with that.” 

In announcing the lawsuit, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee noted they’re spending more than $10 million on voting-related litigation during this year’s election cycle. 

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