@NCCapitol

@NCCapitol

GOP pushes for more details on ballots still to be counted in NC

Posted November 6, 2020 1:59 p.m. EST
Updated November 6, 2020 11:28 p.m. EST

— Republican lawmakers on Friday demanded that state elections officials release data on absentee ballots that remain outstanding, which they believe will show President Donald Trump and U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis won their elections in North Carolina.

Lawmakers even threatened to subpoena the State Board of Elections, part of a push on several fronts by Trump supporters and the GOP to halt what some say is election fraud.

About 99,000 absentee ballots that were requested haven't been accounted for, according to the State Board of Elections. They are either in the mail, need to be spoiled because the voter cast an in-person ballot on Tuesday or simply weren't voted.

Absentee ballots can be counted as long as they were postmarked by Tuesday, arrive at a local elections office by Nov. 12 and meet all of the witness requirements. Nearly 32,000 have arrived in the last three days, and the Postal Service found 540 in facilities across North Carolina in two sweeps conducted Thursday. Those sweeps – two more were to take place Friday – were ordered by a federal judge in lawsuit filed in Washington. D.C., that alleged that the Postal Service was slowing mail processing to suppress votes cast by mail.

House Speaker Tim Moore instructed the leaders of legislative elections oversight panels to use "all available tools," including subpoenas, to get information from the state board.

"It’s not whether I or other legislators have confidence, it's whether the voters of this state have confidence in the outcome of this election," said Moore, R-Cleveland.

Dozens of Trump supporters rallied in downtown Raleigh on Friday, accusing state elections officials of delaying the final vote totals for nefarious reasons. Trump himself even alleged fraud in North Carolina's election during a White House statement on Thursday.

"The question everybody has to ask is, would they rather have speculation, or do they want certainty?” said Damon Circosta, chairman of the State Board of Elections. “We’re getting them in as quick as we can get them in, but there’s a process involved in that, and we don’t want to rush that process in a way that creates a possibility of error."

Stacy "Four" Eggers, a Republican member of the state board, also dispelled rumors that the vote count is being manipulated.

"I don’t know any votes that have been stolen or misplaced or anything like that," Eggers said.

"The information that we’re looking for is what is the number of people who requested an absentee ballot that then have actually voted in person, because that’s going to tell us how many other absentee ballot requests are still outstanding," North Carolina Republican Party Chairman Michael Whatley said. "That’s the number that we’re looking for."

On Thursday, Whatley demanded a fast vote count across the state, but he walked it back a bit on Friday, saying he recognizes that county elections officials are complying with state law regarding their canvass meetings to certify election results. He said officials have no evidence of any fraud, but they are ready to challenge election results in court if needed.

"At this point in time, we have seen nothing that leads us to believe that we’re going to be filing a lawsuit," he said. "However, we do have lawyers and observers that have deployed in every one of our 100 counties."

Elections boards in nine North Carolina counties, including Mecklenburg County, held meetings Friday to review about 4,300 absentee ballots. Meetings also were held in Anson, Cabarrus, Edgecombe, Graham, Hoke, Perquimans, Robeson and Sampson counties.

Local boards also will have to rule in the coming days on 40,000 provisional ballots cast on Tuesday.

Based on Moore's instructions, Reps. Destin Hall, R-Caldwell, and Holly Grange, R-New Hanover, and Sens. Ralph Hise, R-Mitchell, Warren Daniel, R-Burke, and Paul Newton, R-Cabarrus, the chairs of the House and Senate elections committees, fired off a letter to state elections director Karen Brinson Bell, demanding that her staff publicly release data on how many of the outstanding absentee ballots were put in the mail by the Tuesday deadline for mailed ballots.

The lawmakers said the data was available from BallotTrax, a tracking system used for the first time in North Carolina this election to allow voters to track the progress of their absentee ballot through the system.

"Transparency in government is critical for citizens to have confidence in their government, and nowhere is that more important than in the conduct of elections. Unfortunately, the State Board of Elections is unnecessarily delaying the release of crucial information that will enable the public and press to know the winner of several North Carolina races," the lawmakers wrote in their letter.

"[Y]our agency should know exactly how many ballots were deposited by voters with the U.S. Postal Service by November 3, 2020, but have not been received bv the county board of elections. Even if you are concerned that the U.S. Postal Service may have failed to scan certain ballots, you may not withhold the information that you do have regarding the number of ballots in the system," the letter states. "We further demand the release of any internal projections, analysis or preliminary information in possession of the board regarding to the total number and identity of those ballots."

Meredith College political science professor David McLennan said the state election process is governed by detailed laws and called it concerning that elected leaders are calling it into question.

"The democracy that we live in is based on trust, and when our elected officials, including the people who write the laws and interact with the professionals who work at the board of elections, sow doubt, then what are voters expected to think?" McLennan said.