- May 4 lawsuit to overturn North Carolina’s absentee ballot protections is an openly partisan power grab
- Backers of the lawsuit are attempting to get the courts to usurp legislative authority in setting state expenditures and election regulations
- Lawsuit is a step towards legalizing ballot harvesting in North Carolina
Now, two groups with ties to the Democratic Party, the Right to Vote Foundation and the National Redistricting Foundation, have combined those two bad ideas into a single witch’s brew with a lawsuit filed in Wake County Superior Court on May 4.
The National Redistricting Foundation, one of the groups pursuing the lawsuit, is affiliated with Eric Holder’s National Democratic Redistricting Committee, a group seeking to bend voting laws to benefit Democrats. The other group, the Right to Vote Foundation, is a newly registered DC-based organization that has kept a low profile so far. Its director, JB Poersch, is also head of the Senate Majority PAC, a super PAC that bills itself as “Solely dedicated to building a Democratic majority in the U.S. Senate.” The lineup of backers for this lawsuit exposes it for the naked partisan power grab that it is.
Trying to gut ballot protections by judicial fiat
The lawsuit is being led by Marc Elias, perhaps best known in North Carolina for representing Democrat Dan McCready in the State Board of Elections’ (SBE) hearing following the 2018 9th Congressional District race. The board ultimately ordered a redo election due to alleged ballot harvesting by McCrae Dowless on behalf of Republican candidate Mark Harris. Elias had to go through some mental gymnastics to highlight evidence that Dowless harvested ballots while simultaneously ignoring evidence that others in Bladen County where doing the same thing to help Democrats.
We see a different kind of mental gymnastics in the complaint Elias and his colleagues filed this week against North Carolina. Early in the complaint, attorneys for the plaintiffs claim that the lawsuit is about the impact of the coronavirus on absentee-by-mail voting, stating on page 3 that current laws protecting the integrity of mail-in ballots “are at best unduly burdensome and pose significant risks to voters’ health and safety, and, at worst, impossible to comply with during a global pandemic.”
However, the changes they say they want the court to impose on North Carolina are not just for the potentially coronavirus-affected 2020 election, but permanent. Those changes include:
- Requiring the state to issue prepaid postage for ballot return envelopes
- Removing the witness requirement for absentee ballots
- Limiting signature-matching requirements
- Requiring the state to accept in-state mailed-in ballots until the day before the county board of elections canvas and to presume that a ballot was mailed by election day even if it shows up without a postmark nine days after the election
The prepaid postage requirement would not harm mail-in ballot integrity but is of limited use and SBE executive director Karen Brinson Bell estimates that it would cost $3.6 million at a time when the state is facing a revenue shortfall and increased expenses due to the coronavirus pandemic. The demand would inject the courts into appropriations, a power reserved to the legislature.
On April 30, I noted that reducing or ending the witness requirement would eliminate verification that the voter was actually the person who marked the ballot and that the change would also get rid of a crucial tool that provides evidence of absentee ballot fraud investigations.
So, this lawsuit is not about protecting voters from the coronavirus; it is about gutting protections for absentee voting.
A step towards legalized ballot harvesting
In another lawsuit, filed in early March, Elias is attempting to force North Carolina to roll back absentee ballot protections put in place last year by the state legislature in response to ballot harvesting in the 2018 9th Congressional District race. That is the very race that resulted in the hearing at which Elias represented McCready. The bill, S683, which passed unanimously in the Senate and 111-1 in the House, generally bans anyone other than the voter or a near relative or guardian from submitting absentee ballot requests. Dowless turned in hundreds of absentee ballot requests as part of his alleged ballot harvesting operation.
But the mischief does not stop there.
The two lawsuits Elias is leading in North Carolina are also stepping stones to their ultimate prize in controlling elections: legalized ballot harvesting. That is not hyperbole on my part; the fourth item on the NC Democratic Party’s coronavirus response wish list is to legalize “persons other than near relatives and legal guardians to assist voters with requesting, completing, and returning ballots.”
Not to be outdone in chutzpah, Elias advocates for “community organizations” to be able to legally take possession of absentee ballots from voters, with doing in the 2018 9th Congressional District race. Elias even brags about a lawsuit he led against Arizona that struck down that state’s ban on ballot harvesting (DNC v. Hobbs).
If Elias and his financial backers succeed in gutting North Carolina’s absentee ballot protections, a lawsuit to legalize ballot harvesting here, like the one he led in Arizona, will not be far behind.