Yet another lawsuit filed over NC election laws

Marc Elias questions a witness during a public evidentiary hearing on the 9th congressional district voting irregularities investigation Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2019, at the North Carolina State Bar in Raleigh, N.C. (Travis Long/The News & Observer via AP, Pool)

RALEIGH — Marc Elias, the lawyer who is leading efforts in several states to loosen restrictions on absentee ballot procedures, announced Monday night a new suit filed in N.C.

The new lawsuit seeks to add the state to at least 14 others being pushed to enact the so-called “four pillars” in advance of the November general election. The requirements listed on the Democracy Docket website are: 1) free or prepaid postage paid for by state government, 2) ballots postmarked on election day must count, 3) eliminating signature-matching laws, and 4) allow partisan organizations to collect and deliver ballots, also known as ballot harvesting.

Elias tweeted Monday, “We just filed another Four Pillars lawsuit in North Carolina! The state must provide accessible vote by mail AND safe in-person voting.”

Previously, Elias was involved in state and federal redistricting lawsuits, and he represented Democratic congressional candidate Dan McCready in the 9th District fraud case.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the Redistricting Foundation and the Alliance for Retired Americans. The Redistricting Foundation is aligned with Eric Holder’s National Democratic Redistricting Committee, and the Alliance for Retired Americans is the retired union member affiliate of the AFL-CIO.

The “four pillars” have only been fully enacted in one state, Washington, with 10 states having enacted three. Six states have zero, including heavily Democratic states like Connecticut and Massachusetts.

The N.C. State Board of Elections (NCSBE) released a FAQ on Monday, Aug. 10, saying that at least seven times as many absentee by-mail requests have been submitted compared to this point in the 2016 general election.  

“With health concerns amid the COVID-19 pandemic, more North Carolinians are choosing to vote by mail this year,” said Karen Brinson Bell, the agency’s executive director. “Our goal is for every voter to have the information they need to make sure their vote counts in 2020.”

Axios reported last week that the prospect of extended court fights over COVID-19-related voting changes has prompted a “hire-all-the-lawyers binge by candidates and campaigns — not just in swing states but around the country,” with legal disputes likely in close election contests around the country.

State legislators have revised laws regarding absentee by-mail ballots, first following the 9th Congressional District scandal that resulted in a special election in 2019, and second, earlier this year during the short session in preparation for a higher percentage of absentee by-mail ballots.

The legislation, passed by wide majorities in the General Assembly and signed by Gov. Roy Cooper, would be undone should Elias and Democracy Docket prevail.

“The Republican legislature and Democrat Governor already passed an election law to address concerns relating to the election this cycle. This is simply the latest attempt by out of state liberal activist to degrade the integrity of North Carolina elections,” said North Carolina Republican Party spokesman Tim Wigginton.

Elias is no stranger to North Carolina, having represented Cooper in 2016’s gubernatorial recount, in addition to his previous work. He makes no effort to hide his partisanship, with his bio saying he is a “lawyer fighting for Democrats and voting rights for all.”

The latest case was filed in Wake County Superior Court, but time is running short. Absentee ballots will begin being sent the week of Sept. 4 to voters who have already made requests.

“This latest partisan lawsuit is just another attempt to undermine the credibility of our elections. Just last week a federal judge ruled against these attempts to legalize ballot harvesting and make it easier to commit absentee ballot fraud,” said Lauren Horsch, a spokesperson for N.C. Senate Leader Phil Berger (R-Eden).

U.S. District Court Judge William Osteen ruled in federal court against similar attempts to loosen absentee ballot rules, refusing to order changes requested by Democracy North Carolina the League of Women Voters or North Carolina.

The plaintiffs wanted the elimination of uniform early-voting hours, the voter registration deadline 25 days before Election Day and the witness requirement. The witness requirement, which has required two witnesses previously (or one if the witness is a notary public), has already been changed for the November 2020 election only to one.

The plaintiffs also wanted a method for people to request absentee ballots by phone and to leave completed ballots in “no-contact” boxes. Osteen rejected the requests because he believed the plaintiffs were unlikely to win their arguments on these matters at trial.