A man voting behind a desk with a privacy guard that reads

2020 Election Ripe With Confusion & Contradictory Election Rules

This year’s election cycle has been like no other. Polling places are socially distanced, an unprecedented number of absentee ballots have been submitted, and hundreds of lawsuits have been filed. One constant fixture of the 2020 elections in North Carolina has been frequent so-called “numbered memos” from the state Board of Elections’ (BOE) Executive Director, Karen Brinson Bell. JLF’s Dr. Don van der Vaart explains:

As executive director of the state elections board, Bell has been very busy writing dozens of “numbered memos” from her to the 100 county boards of elections. Each memorandum deals with a different aspect of NC election law, and on most occasions, each appears to advocate that the boards take actions that are contrary to NC elections law.

The memoranda follow a pattern in design:

  1. They correctly state the law in various places, typically in a footnote.
  2. They then may mention COVID-19.
  3. They then condones actions that appear to violate the law — always with the result being to approve a ballot instead of finding the ballot invalid.

Dr. van der Vaart provides some examples:

Numbered Memo 2020-23

Bell then directs county election boards to accept the opposite of what the law requires:

“…county board shall not disapprove an absentee ballot solely because it was delivered by someone who was not authorized to possess the ballot. [Emphasis added.]”

…[but] a footnote referenced by the above statement again restating the law correctly:

“Compare G.S. § 163-230.2(3), as amended by Section 1.3.(a) of Session Law 2019-239, which states that an absentee request form returned to the county board by someone other than an unauthorized person is invalid. [Emphasis added.]”

One of Bell’s election board decisions, allowing absentee ballots to be accepted until November 12, was recently upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. And, despite the fact that we may not know the winners of elections for days or weeks after election night, many storefronts are boarding up in preparation for anticipated civil unrest on election Tuesday evening.

Read Dr. van der Vaart’s full piece here.

Brenee Goforth / Communications Associate