Below is my public comment on proposed restrictions on regulations on election observers by the North Carolina State Board of Elections:

I am writing in opposition to the proposed rule changes on 08 NCAC 20.0101: Election Observers.

First, the temporary rule process is not appropriate for these changes. There have been no related changes in state or federal election law, there have been no related court orders, and the state elections board has not established any need for these changes to “preserve the integrity of upcoming elections” (GS 150B-21.1).

Feedback from officials from the 2022 primary is insufficient to invoke the temporary rules change procedure. There are elections of some sort every year in North Carolina and using feedback from a particular election as an excuse to use the temporary rule process for the next election would mean that the State Board of Elections would have free rein to use the temporary rule procedure at any time. It invites abuse of the process.

There are also several aspects of the proposed changes that are problematic and reflect an unnecessary hostility towards elections observers. The regulations also go beyond anything required by state law and look designed to make the work of election observers more onerous.

  • The proposed change to give the chief judge the power to remove an observer if the judge believes the observer is being “disruptive” is arbitrary. (Page 2, lines 27-29).
  • The proposed restriction preventing near relatives of precinct or one-stop election officials from serving as observers or runners is unnecessarily restrictive and appears designed to limit the number of people available to serve as observers. The restriction for election officials is that near relatives may not serve in the same precinct or early voting site. That would be appropriate for observers as well. (Page 3, lines 16-18
  • The proposed rule barring observers from using doors designated for election officials is petty and potentially prevents continuous observance of the curbside voting process. That break in the chain of observation violates the purpose of election observers under North Carolina law. (Page 3, line 7)
  • The proposal to give election judges the power to remove observers who leave an “area designated for observers” is arbitrary and goes against state law. GS 163-45.(c) states that observers may not conduct electioneering, “impede the voting process or interfere or communicate with or observe any voter in casting a ballot,” but otherwise, “the chief judge and judges of elections shall permit the observer to make such observation and take such notes as the observer may desire.” (Page 3, lines 8-10)

Election observers are integral to the election process. It is no accident that laws for election observers and precinct election officials are found together in Article 5, Chapter 163 of North Carolina’s General Statutes. The proposed rule changes do not reflect that reality.

The proposed changes are part of an ongoing campaign against election observers by the State Board of Elections. Unsurprisingly, my public comment is similar to my spoken testimony against the proposed changes.

There is still time to post public comments. The deadline is Friday, August 12. Here is the link to the public comment portal.