More Confusion Over Absentee Rules

Dueling court decisions last week left confusion about a key absentee ballot issue, with just a month left in which to vote.

First, a North Carolina Superior Court approved the State Board of Elections’ (SBE) proposed settlement of a lawsuit over the disparate racial impacts of the state’s absentee ballot rules. The state judge signed off on allowing voters who failed to include complete witness information on their ballot envelope to fix the error without starting their voting process completely over.

Groups suing the SBE to challenge the “start-from-scratch” requirement pointed out that while Black voters had submitted only 16% of the mailed-in absentee ballots, they represented 43% of the ballots disqualified due to the technical error of incomplete witness information. The settlement of their case, approved unanimously by the five-member bipartisan SBE, allowed voters to cure the error by signing an affidavit confirming they had submitted the ballot in question.

Just days later, however, a federal court judge hearing a Republican Party challenge to those changes issued an order stopping them from going into effect. Since federal legal authority supersedes state law in cases of conflict, the federal court order halting the change prevails.

Given the brief window of days left before Election Day (November 3) and that absentee voting is already underway, it seems safer not to count on the changes being implemented. Voters using the mail-in absentee ballot process are urged to exercise special caution to avoid common technical errors for their submission.

Finally, remember that one-stop in-person early voting begins October 15, and continues through October 31 at 3 p.m. If you haven’t yet registered to vote at your current address, submitted an absentee request, or returned your ballot, or if you’ve had your ballot rejected for a technical mistake, take advantage of the chance to mask up, visit any early voting site in your county of residence, and both register to vote and then vote in one stop.

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