You may recall the 2020 convictions of two ballot traffickers in Hoke County on charges related to the “assistance” they provided to people in an assisted living facility (Voter Integrity Project):

Hoke County Democrat activists, Wanda Blue and Julia Shaw, indicted for harvesting a combined 21 absentee ballots from Hoke County nursing home patients, quietly accepted a lesser charge but Hoke resident, Hal Nunn, whose mother, a Stage-Four Alzheimer patient, was a victim, today petitioned the State Board of Elections to release their investigation notes…

Shaw, who was indicted of possessing 13 absentee ballots plead guilty, but Blue negotiated an Alford plea, which magically allowed her to plead guilty without admitting guilt…

Nunn may have triggered the Blue-Shaw investigations after he discovered how, in a March 2016 primary, that somebody voted in his mother’s name. He recorded an interview with his mother only a few hours after spotting her “signed” an absentee ballot envelope request form at the Hoke County Board of Elections office

Open season on disabled voters

According to Federal Judge Terrence W. Boyle, that is fine. Boyle issued a summary judgment in Disability Rights North Carolina v. Noth Carolina State Board of Elections over the weekend, striking down North Carolina’s prohibition of assisted living facility owners, managers, or employees from marking ballots on behalf of their patients or helping those patients mark their ballots. The ruling also provides a green light for elected officials, political party officeholders, or candidates to provide such assistance (all of whom are similarly prohibited by North Carolina law from doing so).

The judge also partially struck down North Carolina’s prohibition of ballot trafficking. Now, anyone may take possession of the ballots of disabled people.

The judgment does not, in theory, affect protections of assisted living facility residents who are not disabled.

The judge stated, “The plain language of these provisions restricts the right of assistance guaranteed to Section 208 voters residing in facilities.” Here is section 208:

Any voter who requires assistance to vote by reason of blindness, disability, or inability to read or write may be given assistance by a person of the voter’s choice, other than the voter’s employer or agent of that employer or officer or agent of the voter’s union.

Why did that law make exceptions for employers or union bosses? To protect voters from intimidation or manipulation. That protection is also the purpose of North Carolina’s prohibition of assisted living facility owners, managers, or employees from assisting those under their care. Those people have power over their patients and can subject large numbers of them to intimidation or manipulation just as employers or union bosses can.

We can expect political parties and interest groups to take advantage of the ruling by either seeking access to assisted living facility patients or recruiting facility managers or employees to gain access to those patients for them.

How should officials respond, and what can you do?

The long-term solution is for Congress to make a technical correction to Section 208 to limit the rights of assisted living facility owners, managers, or employees from assisting voters. Elected officials, political party officeholders, or candidates should also be prohibited from providing such assistance.

In the interim, election officials and others must act to protect voters from the now-legalized abuses like what happened in Hoke County.

County boards of elections already have multipartisan assistance teams (MATs). MATs are “group[s] appointed by a county board of elections to assist with mail-in absentee voting and other services to voters.” They operate in bipartisan pairs and offer the best way for many assisted living facility residents to vote while protecting them from manipulation or intimidation.

Undated photo of multipartisan assistance team members assisting a voter mark her ballot. Image source: Wake County Board of Elections.

Under the Disability Rights North Carolina v. Noth Carolina State Board of Elections ruling, MATs may now also take possession of disabled assisted living facility residents’ ballots. The State Board of Elections should issue guidance to county boards on how MATs can transmit absentee ballots, including maintaining joint custody of ballots until they are mailed or hand-delivered to the county board of elections office.

County boards should also work with assisted living facility managers to make sure MATs can visit their residents before and during the voting period to limit the opportunity of ballot traffickers or other “activists” to take advantage of disabled residents.

County elections boards and political party leaders must also work together to ensure that there are enough MAT volunteers to meet the needs of all voters in assisted living facilities in their counties.

You can help by volunteering to be a member of a multipartisan assistance team. Contact your county political party leaders or your county board of elections to see how you can volunteer. For Wake County residents, you can apply online to volunteer to be a MAT member.