RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — The North Carolina State Board of Elections voted Friday to release documents from a closed-door meeting in which they approved a controversial settlement related to mail-in voting rules, saying the documents show members were not “misled” about that agreement.
“Voters deserve to have full confidence in their election process,” said NCSBE Chairman Damon Circosta. “Two members of our board resigned their seats claiming they were misled and did not have full access to information before they took an important vote. This is simply not true.”
Republican members David Black and Ken Raymond resigned earlier this week after the board made public the agreement that members unanimously voted to accept. The settlement came in response to lawsuits filed against the board.
It’s still up to a judge whether to accept the settlement. A hearing is scheduled for Friday, Oct. 2. So far, 1,028,648 voters have requested mail-in ballots in North Carolina.
Some key provisions of the agreement include: extending the deadline for mail-in ballots to arrive at county elections offices as long as they’re postmarked by Election Day, establishing drop-off stations for ballots at county offices and early voting sites and allowing voters to submit an affidavit to correct mistakes on the portion of a mail-in ballot where a witness signs.
On Friday, the NCSBE released minutes from the closed-door meeting where members all agreed to the settlement. Click here to read the minutes.
Swain Wood, general counsel to the North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein (D), explained to the board why he thought it would be in the board’s interest to reach a settlement in light of various pending lawsuits.
“With court rulings, one or more judges could change what the state board will do in upcoming elections. There is a high potential for conflicting rulings and changing rules. Mr. Wood then moved to a discussion of the settlement possibility,” the minutes read. “Noted that we would need to find some common ground with plaintiffs and that any settlement would be subject to judicial approval.”
The minutes show Black supported the current law requiring a witness to sign a mail-in ballot.
“We should not do away with the witness law,” he said, according to the minutes. He supported extending the deadline for ballots to arrive as long as they’re postmarked by Election Day, arguing the settlement should include a specific date for those ballots to arrive.
The minutes indicated that Black also suggested election officials post a sign outside offices to inform voters it would be a felony to drop off someone else’s ballot unless the person dropping off the ballot is a near relative or guardian of the voter.
In addition, he “felt that the (county board of elections) clerk should handle the processing of ballot, review for errors, cure some errors immediately for a walk-in voter,” the minutes read.
During the meeting Raymond said he did not support extending the deadline for mail-in ballots to arrive at election offices.
“He understands the need for things to go smoothly, however, believes this recommendation compromises the outcome of the election,” the minutes read.
Raymond also expressed support for keeping the witness requirement in place.
The pair later voted, along with the rest of the board, in favor of the settlement.
“Any assertion that a member was misled or not fully apprised of the issues at hand is incorrect,” Circosta said.
When asked about the meeting minutes and the Republican members’ comments, North Carolina Senate leader Phil Berger (R) said, “The simple fact is the result is not something that the minutes clearly reflect that they would have been in favor of.”
When the agreement became public, state Republican Party leaders were quick to condemn it, arguing it would undermine protections the General Assembly put in place, including ones in response to the election fraud that occurred in the state’s 9th Congressional District.
“We were never consulted about any of this, as parties to this lawsuit. You know, this is not a decision by a judge or a lawmaker, this is the governor and the attorney general simply following orders from their Democratic Party bosses,” said House Speaker Tim Moore (R). “I would call this a sue-and-settle scam.”
Moore and Berger said they were looking at legal options to try to block the changes in the settlement from taking effect, though it’s unclear what steps they’ll take.
Democratic Party Chairman Wayne Goodwin said after reading through the new documents, that the actions of the Republicans were “an orchestrated effort.”
“Looking at the timing, there’s no other way to explain it. It’s a stunt. And, the Republicans should be shameful,” he said.
When asked if he would accept the election results if the election occurs under the parameters of the settlement, Berger said, “An election that is fairly and legally conducted, the results will be accepted. Elections that are tainted by fraud, elections that are tainted by inappropriate actions by the Board of Elections, will be met with whatever resources can be brought to bear.”
Berger argued the proposed process to resolve issues with the witness signature would render it meaningless. He also criticized the proposal to allow for drop-off stations, saying they would be “unmanned.”
The settlement agreement calls for those stations to be staffed and located at county election offices and early voting sites.
A spokesman for Berger called attention to an accompanying memo to the agreement that reads, “If your site has a mail drop or drop box used for other purposes, you must affix a sign stating that voters may not place their ballots in the drop box. However, a county board may not disapprove a ballot solely because it is placed in a drop box.”
When asked about that, Laura Brewer, spokesperson for Stein, said about Berger’s assertion, “I think that’s taken a little out of context. The provision is not about absentee drop boxes. It’s about mail slots at county board of elections offices used for all sorts of things that are not ballot-related — mail, package drop off, etc.”
Stein released a statement as well Friday, saying, “These Republican leaders are lying about the consent decree to create mistrust in our elections. That’s disgraceful and un-American. They should care more about helping people stay safe, healthy, and have their vote count than they do about power.”
When asked about the potential for the changing rules creating confusion for voters, Gov. Roy Cooper (D) said, “It’s wrong for politicians to try to use politics to undermine the election.”
The North Carolina Republican Party also announced Friday it has submitted the official list of GOP nominees to serve on the North Carolina State Board of Elections.
“The North Carolina Republican Party has submitted our official list of nominees and fully expect Governor Cooper to quickly fill the vacancies on the North Carolina Board of Elections,” said NCGOP Chairman Michael Whatley.
On Wednesday, both Republican members of the NCSBE — David Black and Ken Raymond — resigned.
The resignations came just as the NCSBE agreed to settle a lawsuit filed by the North Carolina Alliance for Retired Americans, which sued state officials over a variety of provisions related to absentee voting. The settlement may bring changes to the mail-in ballot process, which is already underway.
Nominees to fill Black’s seat are:
- Jeanette Kathleen Doran- Wake County
- Stacy “Four” Clyde Eggers, IV- Watauga County
- James “Carr” Carlton McLamb, Jr.- Wake County
- Nominees to fill Raymond’s seat are:
- Dr. Donald Robert van der Vaart- New Hanover County
- Wyatt “Tommy Tucker, Sr.- Union County
- Dr. Trudy Lynn Wade- Guilford County
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