The North Carolina State Board of Elections has voted against giving authority to county boards to compare signatures on absentee ballot requests and return envelopes to combat election fraud.
Democrats on the state board outvoted Republicans 3-2 to deny a requested declaratory ruling from the state Republican Party to authorize county boards of elections to compare signatures on absentee ballot requests and return envelopes to reduce the potential for voter fraud, The Carolina Journal reports.
Current law requires absentee ballots to be signed by two witnesses or a notary. It also requires signatures on request forms and return envelopes, but does not require election officials to compare them.
Republican board member Stacy Eggers offered a motion to allow county boards to compare suspicious signatures because "the presence of a signature on the registration card is an easy and accessible tool that the counties have" to combat fraud.
"Having that for their additional consideration for absentee ballot requests builds trust in the system," Eggers argued, adding that the authority would speed up authentication and reduce investigations.
But Democrat board member Stella Anderson argued against the motion because she said approving the authority "would potentially impose additional requirements beyond the statutory requirements," according to the Journal.
Democrat board chairman Damon Circosta also alleged North Carolina already has "an extraordinarily secure absentee ballot process," WRAL reports.
"To do this would introduce a level of uncertainty wherein some voters might be treated (differently) than other voters depending on how they vote," he said.
Republican board member Tommy Tucker compared the request to the board's recent scrutiny of petitions for the Green Party that resulted in exclusion from the ballot. The Green Party filed a lawsuit on Thursday challenging the state board's decision, NPR reports.
"The lack of accountability through the absentee ballot process lends itself to the opportunity to cheat," Tucker said, according to the Journal. "It doesn't mean all absentee ballots will be scrutinized, but the ones that look fraudulent and suspect just like we looked at the petitions for the Green Party. The process is the same. So, we are doing for one but not the other?"
The board ultimately voted against Eggers' motion before voting in favor of an opposite motion from Democrat board member Jeff Carmon that stipulated county boards do not have the authority to compare signatures.
"The 3-2 decision was expected," Andy Jackson, director of the Civitas Center for Public Integrity at the John Locke Foundation, told the Journal. "Roy Cooper's State Board of Elections has a history of making the minimum election security rules required by law. The board should at least have required the same level of scrutiny of signatures on absentee ballots that they applied to the Green Party petitions they recently voted not to certify."
Jackson said the General Assembly could take up the issue in the 2023 legislative session.
The North Carolina Republican Party is now awaiting a written order from the state board of elections and may pursue an appeal, according to the Journal.
"We are stunned that the Democrats on the State Board of Elections are blocking the use of signature verification on absentee ballots," party chairman Michael Whatley said in a prepared statement. "This misguided decision is a direct contradiction of state law, which is clear that County Boards of Elections are required to validate the identity of absentee voters. The North Carolina Republican Party will explore every option at our disposal to restore voter signature verification as an essential component of our County Boards' efforts to protect the integrity of North Carolina elections."