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Elections Board Backs Down; Will not Try to Limit Observers to Two per Day

A few weeks ago, I wrote how the staff at the North Carolina State Board of Elections (SBE) was seeking to make elections less transparent by limiting the number of elections observers at early voting sites and election day polling places. They were seeking to reinterpret state law from allowing up to eight precinct-specific election observers per day on election day (two every four hours) to two per day.

For a refresher, here is the current regulatory language (section C):

No more than two precinct-specific observers from each political party may be in the voting enclosure at any time. Only one atlarge observer from each political party may be in the voting enclosure at any time, even if no precinctspecific observers are present. All observers, whether precinctspecific or atlarge, may be relieved after serving no less than four hours. An observer may leave the voting place without having served for four hours, but the observer cannot be replaced by a new observer until at least four hours have passed since the first observer began serving.

Consistent with the statute on which the current regulation is based, the current regulation allows up to eight precinct-specific observers during the thirteen hours of election day.

SBE staff sought to change the regulation so that each party could only appoint two precinct-specific observers per day (page 10 of 26, proposed new language is in bold):

No more than two precinct-specific observers from each political party may be in the voting enclosure at any time. Only one at-large observer from each political party may be in the voting enclosure at any time, even if no precinct-specific observers are present. All observers, whether precinct-specific or at-large, may be relieved after serving no less than four hours.hours; however, the total number of observers from each party per day cannot exceed three total observers: two precinct-specific observers and one county or State at-large observer. An observer may leave the voting place without having served for four hours, but the observer cannot be replaced by a new observer until at least four hours have passed since the first observer began serving.

The public response to the proposal was large and, as far as I can tell, completely negative. Seeing that the public was on to what the SBE staff was seeking to do, they had little choice but to back down or face a beat down at the Rules Review Commission similar to the one the SBE suffered last year. Here is their revised proposed language (page 1, proposed new language is in bold, revised proposed new language is in red):

No more than two precinct-specific observers from each political party may be in thevoting enclosure at any time. Only one at-large observer from each political party may be in the voting enclosure at any time, even if no precinct-specific observers are present. All observers, whether precinct-specific or at-large, may be relieved after serving no less than four hours. hours; however, the total number of observers from each party per day cannot exceed three total observers in the voting enclosure at one time: two precinct-specific observers and one county or State at-large observer. An observer may leave the voting place without having served for four hours, but the observer cannot be replaced by a new observer until at least four hours have passed since the first observer began serving.

In short, we are back to the maximum precinct-specific observers we had before.

This is a victory for citizens who stayed informed and spoke out.

The State Board of Elections will vote on several proposed rule changes at their June 29 meeting.

UPDATE: On second look, that updated language might leave the lawyers at the SBE wiggle room to limit precinct observers to three per day (two precinct-specific, one at-large). I have emailed the SBE directly asking the number of observers permitted per precinct during the 13 hours of election day, a 10-hour day of early voting, and a 5-hour day of early voting. I will post another update when they have answered those questions.

UPDATE #2: I reached out to the SBE, and they confirmed that the new language in the proposed rules changes will not reduce the number of election observers allowed per day.

Andy Jackson / Director of the Civitas Center for Public Integrity | John Locke Foundation