Federal District Court Judge William Osteen issued an injunction in the case of Democracy NC v NC State Board of Elections on August 4.
Osteen rejected most of the plaintiffs’ demands since they would likely not win on the merits. The court rejected Democracy NC’s requests to:
- Alter the 25-day voter registration deadline
- Overturn law requiring absentee ballots be requested on a form created by the State Board of Elections
- Expand the types of documents that can be used as proof of residency for absentee ballot requests
- Allow political operatives to fill out and submit absentee ballot requests for voters
- Eliminate the witness requirement for absentee ballots (normally two witnesses are required, but only one is required for the 2020 election)
- Eliminate the residency requirement for all precinct poll workers
- Overturn North Carolina’s ban on ballot harvesting
- Allow county boards to advantage some voters by setting different voting hours for early “one-stop” voting sites
The court only broadly found for Democracy NC on one item, stating on page 180 of the injunction that it “enjoins the State BoE from allowing county boards of elections to reject a delivered absentee ballot without notice and an opportunity to be heard until the State BoE puts such a uniform procedure in place.”
So county boards of elections will have to notify voters whose absentee ballots were rejected (mostly likely via mailed card or by email in some cases) to give them an opportunity to either correct the mistake that caused the rejection or vote in person. The League of Women Voters, one of the plaintiffs in the case, claimed in a media release that 41% of rejected absentee ballots could have potentially been “cured” if such a procedure were in place in the March primary.
(The court also found that one plaintiff, Walter Hutchins, may be assisted by staff members to vote at his assisted living facility.)
Relatedly, the judge also rejected the idea that in-person voting during the coronavirus is inherently unsafe (page 139):
Further, regarding voting in person, Dr. Plush, whose testimony this court credits due to his history of treating patients with COVID-19, testified that he does “not believe that there is significant risk [from in-person voting] if the -guidance from the CDC, including physical distancing, wearing a face mask, diligent hand hygiene, and environmental decontamination is followed, then the risk to the individual is very low and can approach zero.”
That finding is in line with my own observations of coronavirus precautions during the 11th Congressional District Republican second primary, which I found “demonstrated that North Carolina can safely conduct in-person voting this fall.”
Finally, I had noted in a previous article that H1169, a bipartisan election bill passed in May, would likely undermine four “sue until blue” lawsuits, including this one. Indeed, the court noted on page 180 of the injunction that the “taken steps towards remedying the issues posed by the COVID-19 pandemic by passing and signing into law H.B. 1169.” We will see how that law affects those other three lawsuits in the coming weeks.