WHATLEY: NC voters deserve the confidence of basic ballot protections

NCGOP Chairman Michael Whatley

In North Carolina, we have strong election laws which are designed to prevent voter fraud and ensure the integrity of our elections. These laws, along with the tremendous efforts of thousands of volunteer observers, poll workers, and poll judges, allowed North Carolina to avoid many of the election messes that plagued some other states in 2020.

Unfortunately, the North Carolina State Board of Elections has spent a significant amount of effort attempting to undermine these laws and remove safeguards put in place by the NC General Assembly to prevent fraud in absentee by-mail voting. Among the most notable of these efforts was the State Board’s agreement in 2020 to enter into a legal settlement with Democrat activists.

Prior to court approval, the Board used this collusive settlement as a guise to essentially drop the absentee witness requirement, extend the absentee deadline, and eliminate signature matching. Fortunately, most of these protections were restored following lawsuits filed by the North Carolina Republican Party, the RNC, and the General Assembly.

To implement these changes, the State Board issued multiple “Numbered Memos,” many of which dealt with absentee by-mail voting, and almost all of which weakened the integrity of our election. A Numbered Memo is an order issued by the State Board to all of the County Boards of Elections with instructions on how to run elections within their respective counties.

For example, Numbered Memo 2020-19 explicitly prohibited members and staff of county boards of elections from comparing voter signatures on absentee request forms and absentee return envelopes to the voters’ signatures found in their registration files. That Memo and subsequent memos (see Numbered Memo 2021-03) explicitly order that county boards “shall accept” the signature on a return envelope unless there is “clear evidence” that it is not the voter’s signature, “even if the signature is illegible” or is simply a “mark.”

It has long been common practice in North Carolina for county boards of elections to compare absentee signatures to those found on voter registration records. The State Board’s order wasn’t merely a minor adjustment during an unusual election year. Rather, it was a direct order to not follow established practices for verifying the validity of a ballot. In fact, the State Board has continued to enforce this prohibition long after the conclusion of the 2020 Election. While signature matching does not guarantee that illegal votes will not be counted, it is a common-sense tool for our county boards of elections to reduce that risk. The State Board claims that it has prohibited signature matching “because [it] is not required by North Carolina law.”

As Chairman of the North Carolina Republican Party (NCGOP), I talk with voters across the state every week and I am continuously reminded there are few issues more important than election integrity and the need to restore trust in our elections. For this reason, the NCGOP, and I as chairman, have taken a strong stand against the State Board’s continuous trampling of North Carolina’s election procedures.

On May 14, 2022, the NCGOP filed a request for a declaratory ruling seeking to reinstate signature matching as one of the key election safeguards needed to protect the ballot. During their June 9, 2022 meeting, the State Board voted unanimously to grant the NCGOP’s request for a declaratory ruling. This means the Board has 45 days to officially issue a written opinion on the issue.

We hope that the State Board will do the right thing and allow county boards of elections to conduct signature matching on absentee ballots. We also hope that the State Board will not take further actions to remove protections for absentee ballots in the future. To ensure that our elections remain free and secure, the recipe is simple: it should be easy to vote, but hard to cheat. The People of North Carolina deserve nothing less.

[The State Board is receiving public comments on this issue until July 5, 2022. Leave your comments for them at THIS LINK, and sign up to join the NCGOP’s election integrity efforts at nc.gop/protecttheballot.]