- The ACLU is suing North Carolina to repeal the witness requirement for absentee ballots.
- The ACLU claims that the witness requirement does not serve “any valid governmental interest,” but witness signatures were used as evidence in the 9th Congressional District hearing and testimony reveals that the witness requirement makes ballot harvesting more difficult.
- Despite ACLU claims that North Carolina’s absentee voting rules “disenfranchise” voters, a left-wing think tank gave North Carolina the highest score for voting by mail of any state in the South.
The North Carolina branch of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is pushing yet another election-related lawsuit and at the heart of that lawsuit is a lie.
The lawsuit is titled “Chambers v. State of North Carolina,” but, as is usually the case in such matters, the plaintiffs are just serving as props for the organization and money behind the lawsuit. The real force behind this is the North Carolina ACLU.
The ACLU’s basic argument is summed up on page two of the complaint:
Thus, the Witness Requirements threaten to disenfranchise countless North Carolinians—without serving any valid governmental interest that could conceivably warrant such a significant incursion on citizens’ right to vote.
The first problem in the ACLU’s lawsuit, and the statement above, is that they were unsuccessful in finding people who so completely cut themselves off from the rest of humanity that they would not be able to have someone witness their ballot. Three of four listed plaintiffs report regularly going out of the home for grocery shopping or other matters. The fourth reportedly is “diligently self-isolating” but it is unclear from the complaint if that person completely self-isolates.
However, the real problem is the lie at the heart of their lawsuit: the claim that the witness requirement for absentee ballots does not serve “any valid governmental interest.”
Contrary to ACLU’s claim, the witness requirement serves to protect voters and the integrity of our elections in two ways. First, in cases of suspected absentee ballot fraud, the witness signatures help establish who was involved in the fraud. Former SBE executive director Gary Bartlett noted a pattern with such ballot harvesting operations:
Bartlett said the abuse of absentee ballots usually follows this pattern: A team of two targets elderly or low-income voters and has them apply for an absentee ballot. Once the ballot arrives, they may help the voters fill it out. They sign as the two necessary witnesses and offer to mail it. If the voter marks a choice that’s not the team’s candidate, it’s not mailed.
Second, as demonstrated below, the witness requirement makes ballot harvesting more difficult to execute.
The ACLU lawyers could only really believe that the witness requirement does not serve “any valid governmental interest” if they had been living under a rock in a cave under the bottom of the ocean without any means of communication for the past two years.
How else, other than deliberate obtuseness, could they have missed the State Board of Elections (SBE) hearings last year on alleged ballot harvesting in the 9th Congressional District.
The usefulness of the absentee ballot witness requirement was on full display in the 9th Congressional District hearing in 2019. Acknowledging the pattern pointed out by Bartlett, SBE officials compiled 796 ballot container envelopes as evidence in the hearing to help establish who was involved in the alleged absentee ballot fraud. One of those envelopes, bearing the signatures of alleged ballot harvesters Lisa Britt and James Singletary, is seen in figure 1.
With the witness signatures as evidence, suspected ballot harvesters could not pretend that they had never seen the ballots that they were accused of harvesting. As seen in Figure 2, alleged ballot fraudster Lisa Britt was forced to acknowledge her signature on the container envelope of a ballot she allegedly harvested during the SBE 9th District hearing. She also revealed that alleged accomplice James Singletary violated election law by not signing as a witness in the presence of the voter.
In addition to the evidence that the witness requirement provided to investigators, testimony during the hearings demonstrated how the witness requirement makes it more difficult to conduct absentee ballot fraud. On pages 21 and 22 of the transcript of the first day of the hearing, then SBE executive director Kim Strach noted how the alleged ballot harvesting operation in Bladen County had to go through extra steps, such as matching the dates of witness signatures with voter signatures and even matching the color of the ink used for those signatures. On page 70 of the same transcript, Lisa Britt noted how they worried that their witnessing too many ballots would “throw up a red flag” (see figure 3), forcing McCrae Dowless to rotate in other workers to collect ballots or even forge witness signatures. The ballot witness requirement constituted a form of legal “harassment” against ballot harvesters that made absentee ballot fraud more difficult to conduct and easier to detect.
So, as seen in the 2019 9th Congressional District hearing, the absentee ballot witness requirement does help to protect absentee ballot security by both making ballot harvesting more difficult to conduct and by providing documentation that makes it easier for officials to detect and prove ballot harvesting. That certainly seems like a valid governmental interest.
Despite the government’s valid interest in protecting ballots with the absentee ballot witness requirement, does the witness requirement really create too great a burden for people who want to vote absentee by mail?
Perhaps the ACLU should have consulted its ideological bedfellows before pursuing this lawsuit. The reliably left-wing Brookings Institute rated North Carolina a “B” in its state-by-state scorecard of “voting by mail during a pandemic,” the highest rating of any state in the South. The only states that scored higher in Brooking’s ratings were several universal vote-by-mail states in the western part of the U.S.
In passing H1169, the General Assembly weakened voter protections by reducing the witness requirement from two to one signature for the 2020 general election (read here to see why that is). That the ACLU wants to further undermine those protections just demonstrates how far out of touch they are — willingly or not — with reality.