A federal judge in North Carolina sharply criticized Wednesday an absentee ballot procedure giving voters more leeway to fix incomplete witness information, but said he’d issue a written ruling at a later time.
U.S. District Judge William Osteen said he’d aim to issue a written ruling early next week after hearing arguments in two related lawsuits on Thursday. Voting rights advocates argue that thousands of ballots with deficiencies are essentially in limbo until a clear process is developed for handling them.
A key issue is how local elections boards should implement a state law requiring absentee voters to have an adult witness their ballot. The state had recently developed a new procedure to allow voters to fix incomplete witness information by returning an affidavit to county officials, but not filling out a new ballot from scratch and having it witnessed again. Those updated rules are currently on hold pending the lawsuits.
Osteen expressed concerns that the procedure would essentially eliminate the witness requirement. He had previously ruled in August that the state had to ensure voters could fix certain deficiencies, but upheld the witness requirement.