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North Carolina judge upholds changes to state absentee ballot rules

Voters can fix errors on absentee ballots. They also have more time to mail them in.

RALEIGH, N.C. — Wake County Superior Court Judge Bryan Collins made the decision this morning to uphold changes to absentee ballot rules.

The decision effectively settles a lawsuit between a group representing retirees and the NC Board of Elections. As a result, there are now some rule changes to the absentee ballot rules in our state.

Republican lawmakers say they are filing lawsuits against the decision.

The new rules include:

1) Extension of the absentee ballot receipt deadline.

  • Absentee ballots must be postmarked no later than November 3rd (Election Day) at 5 p.m. The county Board of Elections must receive said ballot by no later than November 12 at 5 p.m. or nine days later.

2) Errors on absentee ballots can be fixed by the voter. 

This means no you don't need to fill out a brand new ballot if you mess up the first time around.

  • Errors that can be fixed include: no voter signature, misplaced voter signature, no witness name, no witness address, no witness signature, misplaced witness signature
  • Board of Elections must contact the voter by mail or email, informing the voter of the issue
  • The voter is then sent a "Cure Certification". It's a document where the voter can correct the errors.
  • The Cure Certification document must be postmarked by 5 p.m. on Election Day (Nov. 3), and received by the BOE by 5 p.m. November 12, in order for it to be counted

3) Absentee ballot drop-offs must be available at early voting locations

  • The person who drops off the ballot must tell the BOE staffer on site their name and whether they are the voter, or the voter's close relative or guardian. If the person is none of those things, the BOE staffer must take that person's address and phone number.

According to state officials, these rules would only apply for the 2020 election: "The judgement does not resolve any claims pertaining to the constitutionality or enforcement of the challenged provisions for elections held after 2020."

The North Carolina Alliance for Retired Americans started the process surrounding the changes. They filed a complaint on August 10, 2020 and filed a lawsuit against the State Board of Elections on August 18, 2020.

Several Republican lawmakers say they're against the decision.

"We strongly disagree with this decision and will continue to use every legal avenue available to ensure voter confidence in this election by defending North Carolina law against this collusive settlement,” said North Carolina House Speaker Tim Moore.

North Carolina Senate Leader Phil Berger said lawmakers expected this to happen and will immediately appeal. 

“Collins's lawless ruling last year was overturned unanimously on appeal and we expect the same result this time,” Berger said. “We will not stop fighting to uphold the law, which a bipartisan supermajority enacted earlier this year, that protects against absentee ballot fraud.”

A federal court judge spoke out against the possibility of changing the rules. The Middle District's Judge William Osteen ruled on a case that was attempting to eliminate the one-witness requirement. When he saw the memo from the Board of Elections detailing the rule changes he said, "that policy ignores that this court's order upheld the one-witness requirement and in so doing found that it was a reasonable measure to deter fraud". 

It's important to note that the changes resulting from today's case do not eliminate the witness requirement. It lets voters fix their ballot if they forget to include it.

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