The Daily Tar Heel
Printing news. Raising hell. Since 1893.
Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2023 Newsletters Latest print issue

We keep you informed.

Help us keep going. Donate Today.
The Daily Tar Heel

NC court loosens some restrictions for poll observers, state Republicans gain victory

The Wake County Courthouse pictured on Oct. 11, 2016. Photo Courtesy of the North Carolina Judicial Branch.

State Republicans gained a partial legal victory in a court ruling on Oct. 13, which adjusted laws concerning poll observers at voting sites. 

This upcoming election season, some party-appointed poll observers will have less restrictions on their movement between election sites. 

Previously, “at-large” poll observers – who can serve at any one-stop voting site – would have to stay at a polling location for a four-hour window, and if they were to leave early, they could not be replaced by another at-large observer until the four hours were up. 

North Carolina and national Republicans sued the North Carolina State Board of Elections, claiming the four-hour rule was unconstitutional. 

Wake County Superior Court Judge Vince Rozier ruled in favor of the GOP in regard to the four-hour rule for at-large observers.

“The only way we can give voters assurance that their vote counts is to have positions like poll observers in the precincts, in the voting places, to make sure that there's nothing awkward going on,” John Gaither, the chairperson of the Orange County Republican Party , said.

Rebecca Kreitzer, an associate professor of public policy and an adjunct associate professor of political science at UNC, said it is important that North Carolinians can trust the election process. 

“Having election observers improves faith in the process and faith in American democratic electoral processes, and that's really critical, and that's key,” Kreitzer said. “So, it's not a bad thing that this decision will allow at-large observers to go from place to place.”

Rozier denied another request that two at-large observers be allowed at each polling location. Only one at-large observer is allowed at one time at a voting location, but two site-specific poll observers are allowed per location.

Jason Roberts, a political science professor at UNC and a member of the Orange County Board of Elections, said having too many poll observers at voting sites might make voting more difficult.  

“What we really want is to ensure that the voters don't have any obstacles getting in their way of voting – if they're eligible to vote – so having lots of people in the room can make that a more confusing environment for people,” Roberts said. 

Poll observers in Orange County must be county residents, and they are nominated by the chairpeople of Orange County. 

Gaither said he can nominate members of the Republican party and unaffiliated voters to be poll observers. 

The Republican party also requested to block an extension to the deadline for mailing in absentee ballots, but this request was denied. The current state law is that absentee ballots must be postmarked within three days of election day, and if the third day falls on a federal holiday or a weekend, the law holds that the deadline shifts to the next day government offices are open. 

This year, election day is Tuesday, Nov. 8, and Veteran’s Day is Friday, Nov. 11. NCSBE said in a memo that the absentee-ballot deadline is now Monday, Nov. 14, allowing three additional days to mail in absentee ballots due to the holiday. Republicans also said in the lawsuit that this extension should be blocked.

“The perspective is that the statutes say three days, and the law is three days, and three days is the time limit,” Gaither said.

Gaither said voters who are mailing in absentee ballots should send in their ballots ahead of the deadline to make sure their vote is counted. 

Kreitzer said former President Donald Trump cast a lot of doubt in regard to the absentee-ballot system after the 2020 election.

“Political science literature indicates that absentee ballots are good for everybody,” Kreitzer said. “They're good not just for Democrats, but they're also good for older people, people in rural areas, and that there isn't necessarily a partisan advantage in absentee ballots.”

@DTHCityState | 

To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.