A federal judge ordered North Carolina on Wednesday to ensure that absentee ballots have a witness signature in a mixed ruling that allows voters to fix other more minor problems without casting a new ballot from scratch.
Judge William Osteen issued an injunction requiring state officials to revise a directive issued Sept. 22 that allowed voters to fix a lack of a witness signature by returning an affidavit — but without starting a new ballot over from the beginning. However, he said he would permit that kind of fix for small errors such as an incomplete witness address or a signature in the wrong place.
Osteen, who was presiding over three elections-related lawsuits, struck a middle ground between voting rights advocates concerned about restrictive absentee rules during the pandemic and Republican leaders who wanted more procedures returned to previous, stricter versions. He also declined to alter an extended deadline for county boards to accept absentee ballots after Election Day as long as they are postmarked by Nov. 3.
Still, Osteen complained in his order Wednesday that the State Board of Elections’ late September rule update could let someone cast a ballot without having a witness at all. He said that conflicts with a ruling he issued in August upholding the overall witness requirement in state law but requiring that voters be given due process to fix, or cure, minor ballot errors.
“This court upheld the witness requirement — to claim a cure which eliminates that witness requirement is ‘consistent with’ this court’s order is a gross mischaracterization,” he wrote.