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Follow the latest news and information about voting and the 2020 election, including essential information about how to vote during a pandemic and more.

After NC Elections Board Resignations, Both Sides Accuse Other Of Undermining The Election

Tiffany Tertipes

The resignations of the two GOP members of the North Carolina State Board of Elections on Wednesday night has touched off a firestorm of accusations by both Republicans and Democrats, who say the other party is trying undermine the election. 

The issue is over a proposed legal settlement over the state’s handling of mail-in ballots.

After the resignations, Republican U.S. Rep. Dan Bishop and Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Forest urged the Trump administration to litigate and stop an “abuse of power.”

Senate leader Phil Berger, the state legislature's top Republican, was also harsh.

“This is an attempted end-around of the law in North Carolina passed by both Republicans and Democrats, and it is an end-around that has, as its purpose, providing the Democratic Board of Elections, the Democratic governor, the final say on counting votes,” Berger said.

State Democratic party leader Wayne Goodwin said Republicans are trying to suppress Democratic voters.

“This is, I believe, part of a master plan,” Goodwin said. “Donald Trump wants to stop votes from being counted so he can stay in office.”

The controversy started earlier in the week whenthe Board of Elections voted unanimously to approve a proposed settlementwith a left-leaning group, the North Carolina Alliance for Retired Americans. It said the state’s rules for mail ballots – such as requiring a witness signature – are an unfair burden to older voters during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Under the settlement, if there is a problem with a mail ballot – such as a missing witness signature – county elections offices would no longer "spoil" the ballot and send the voter a new mail ballot. They would send the voter what’s known as a “cure affidavit” – asking them to sign that the ballot is, indeed, theirs.

Berger said that essentially nullifies the requirement that mail ballots by witnessed by at least one person.

“If the ballot submitted does not have a witness and that’s the problem, then you send the voter an affidavit saying, 'Is this your ballot?' It eliminates the witness requirement,” Berger said.

Witness signatures are still required on mail ballots. But if there is a problem with a ballot, the witness signature can be bypassed, said Damon Circosta, the Democratic chair of the Board of Elections.

He said the board settled because it worried it might lose the lawsuit. That would create more confusion even closer to Election Day.

“You do not need the witness signature signed on the affidavit,” Circosta said. “I think that the confusion or uncertainty comes from what we try to do with settlements. The plaintiffs in this case have asked for things like getting rid of the witness signature altogether, and that we would send out ballots. And unanimously — both Democrats and Republicans agreed — that would be a challenge for us and that we wouldn’t be able to do that and still maintain security of the election.”

The elections board’s two Republican members – Ken Raymond and David Black – did vote for the changes, but they both resigned Wednesday night.

Raymond said attorneys from Democratic Attorney General Josh Stein’s office did not tell them that some of the concessions in the settlement had already been denied in a prior case by a federal judge.

Black said he was surprised that the witness requirement was removed as part of the affidavit.

Circosta disagrees with the two Republicans' contention that they weren’t given the best legal advice.

“I think it’s categorically false,” he said. “We got extensive briefings from litigation counsel at the attorney general’s office as well as agency counsel on both the pros and the cons of possible settlement. I’m disappointed that both Mr. Raymond and Mr. Black chose to resign.”

Berger said the elections board is writing its own election law — a job he says is for the General Assembly. This summer, the legislature approved some changes for the general election, such as making it easier to recruit poll workers and reducing the number of witnesses needed on mail ballots from two to one.

He said the 9th District congressional mail ballot scandal in 2018 is evidence that safeguards are needed for mail voting. In that race, a political operative working for the Republican candidate was accused of illegally harvesting mail ballots.

“For all of those folks who continue to say there is no voter fraud, all you have to do is go back to 2018 in North Carolina,” Berger said. “And there was fraud that was sufficient to require a redo of a congressional election.”

There are two other parts of the proposed settlement.

One would extend the deadline that mail ballots could arrive at elections offices to Nov. 12 – nine days after Election Day. The other would no longer require voters to sign a log when they drop off their mail ballots in person.

The stakes are high. Because of the pandemic, there has been a surge in mail voting in North Carolina, with nearly 1 million voters having already requested mail ballots.

Go behind the headlines with WFAE political reporter Steve Harrison in his weekly newsletter, Inside Politics. Steve will provide insight about and analysis of local and statewide politics. Readers will gain an understanding of political news on the horizon and why it matters.

Steve Harrison is WFAE's politics and government reporter. Prior to joining WFAE, Steve worked at the Charlotte Observer, where he started on the business desk, then covered politics extensively as the Observer’s lead city government reporter. Steve also spent 10 years with the Miami Herald. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, the Sporting News and Sports Illustrated.