It’s time to defend mail-in voting in North Carolina. NC’s Republican Party wants the State Board of Elections to force county elections board members to personally verify signatures on absentee ballot forms – and then reject those ballots if they aren’t satisfied. No law allows county boards to throw out ballots at their own discretion after comparing signatures.
Not only do current witness requirements to vote by mail already create a high standard for casting a ballot, but this latest NCGOP request would add an error-prone process of choosing whose vote counts. This is just the latest thinly-veiled attempt to throw up more barriers to voting for all North Carolinians, and throw out votes from disabled voters, communities of color, and LGBTQ+ voters.
We must speak up and fight back. Fortunately, the NCSBE has opened a public comment period through Tuesday, July 5 so the public can make its opposition known in one of three ways:
- Online: Public Comment Portal
- Email: email@example.com
- Mail: Attn: Legal Division, 6400 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27603-1362
State Board staff will compile the comments and post them online before the State Board meets to consider a ruling on the request, likely in mid-July.
TOP 10 REASONS the NCSBE should deny this dangerous request:
- Republicans are demanding the NC State Board of Elections (NCSBE) violate its own authority, experience, and equitable standards in order to toss North Carolinians’ legitimate ballots. With this request, the NC Republican Party seeks to overrule the authority of the State Elections Board (NCSBE) including its current requirement that uniform ballot review methods be used across all counties so that all voters, regardless of residency, have an equal right to have their vote count.
- Republicans’ demands would create a subjective standard for ballot review where the validity of your vote will be based on your zip code. Allowing county boards of elections to assess the validity of voters’ signatures will create a disparate voting standard for voters across the state. Under GOP demands, individual county board members, who lack handwriting analysis expertise, would determine whether a voter’s signature on the absentee ballot container envelope or request form matches their signature on file will result in at best uneven and at worst wildly different acceptance rates across the state based on the county where you live.
- If Republicans get their way, voters who did nothing wrong could have no recourse for saving their votes. The potential for variation in signature review among counties suggests that certain voters can be targeted for this subjective process and have their ballot rejected. Worse, the GOP’s request fails to provide any recourse to the voter should their ballot be scrutinized for removal. The ability of county board members to not count votes from particular voters – based on age, disability status, gender, race or location, or other criteria is a frightening possibility should this the GOP’s request be granted.
- Current witness requirements already provide signature verification.
North Carolina law already requires an absentee voter to confirm their identity by having two witnesses or a notary attest that the voter completed their ballot. This latest GOP demand seeks an additional and unnecessary burden for the growing number of absentee voters and the election staff that would be forced to review these signatures without guidance.
- This burdensome and subjective request has no statutory basis, provides almost no guidance, and is inconsistent with state current policies. The GOP request is yet another unfunded mandate that lacks even the most basic and much-needed guidance for already burdened election workers. There are no procedures that guide the actual signature match process (what to cross-check, how far a voter’s signature must deviate, what to do if the signatures don’t match in other areas, as in a cure perspective).
- If granted, the GOP’s request creates a dangerous standard to challenge state election rules. If the GOP succeeds, any political party, candidate, or voter could request similar rulings whenever they disagree with any NCSBE policy, numbered memo, or executive order.
- Republicans seek to further threaten election officials for doing their jobs.
If Republicans succeed, election board members could be criminally prosecuted for following the current NCSBE guidance.
- Signature matching is a terrible solution in search of a problem.
There is no evidence that additional scrutiny of signatures is needed to prevent vanishingly rare instances of voter fraud, especially given North Carolina’s current and exacting witness requirements.
- Signature matching is an unreliable and discriminatory method of discarding valid votes that disproportionately impact older, younger, and voters of color.
Signature matching could lead to thousands of legitimate North Carolina ballots being thrown out. Even in normal election cycles unimpeded by the constraints of COVID, signature-matching requirements result in many ballots being rejected. Hundreds of thousands of such U.S. ballots were disqualified this way in 2016—almost all, presumably cast by voters who had done everything right. These rejections disproportionately hit certain demographic groups, including elderly voters, young voters, and voters of color.
- Signature matching represents the latest GOP effort to throw out legitimate mail-in ballots at a moment of increased interest in using absentee voting by historically marginalized communities. As voting by mail surges across the country, many North Carolina elections could hinge on this subjective process, where every vote matters and fewer votes will count.