Elections

File photo

RALEIGH — North Carolina’s witness requirement for people casting mail-in absentee ballots is unconstitutional during the COVID-19 pandemic, voters said Friday while suing to have it suspended during the emergency.

State law reads that an absentee voter must fill out a traditional absentee ballot in the presence of two adults, who sign the sealed envelope confirming the voter’s identity. The law was amended last month for the rest of 2020 to reduce the number of witnesses to one. It’s based on the idea that older people and those at higher risk to contract the coronavirus are isolated in their homes.

But even one witness is too many, according to four individuals who sued in Wake County Superior Court with help from the American Civil Liberties Union and a New York law firm. They said they have preexisting conditions that could otherwise force them to endanger their lives by seeking a witness.

The witness requirement, designed to discourage the abuse of absentee ballots, is ineffective at best at discouraging fraud, the lawsuit says, and other voting rules in place are more effective.

“The burden on the voting rights of the many thousands of North Carolinians who will be prevented from either casting their ballots safely or having them counted by retaining the witness requirements far outweighs any purpose served by the requirement,” the plaintiffs’ attorneys wrote.

The lawsuit is one of many filed in North Carolina and other states seeking to ease voting restrictions they say will otherwise prevent people from voting during the pandemic.

A Wake County lawsuit originally filed in May and expanded this week seeks 21 more early in-person voting days above the 17 already required. The several voters who sued — with help from a Washington law firm known for representing national Democratic Party groups — also want the elimination of the witness requirement and for government-paid postage for absentee ballot applications and ballots.

Load comments