Republicans and voting-rights advocates went head-to-head over a proposal that would have people make fact-based claims when they allege voters have committed fraud.
The State Board of Elections has proposed a stiffer standard for elections protests that would have people describe facts, say whether a lawyer helped them make their claims, and say whether they have any witnesses.
The rule is being considered in the aftermath of the November election and the close race between Republican Gov. Pat McCrory and Democrat Roy Cooper. Republicans filed complaints in more than 50 counties alleging ballots were cast by dead people, felons, and people who voted in other states. Most of those complaints were dismissed, but they helped delay vote counts.
The elections board staff listened to testimony about a bundle of proposed rule changes at a public hearing Monday. In addition to the rule on protests, other changes propose to give the elections executive director power to put remedial measures in place when natural disasters or wars disrupt elections. Other proposed changes address curbside voting, election observers, and the return of absentee ballots.
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More than 1,000 people have filed written comments on the proposed changes.
Bob Hall, executive director of the left-leaning voting-rights group Democracy North Carolina, praised the proposed rule on protest filings. His group researched the 600 claims of voter fraud made last November, and reported that 95 percent were wrong.
The McCrory campaign and his Republican allies used protest forms to “make outrageous claims of voter fraud,” Hall said. As a result, voters were unfairly maligned and targeted on social media.
“They used charges of voter fraud for personal gain,” he said.
Democracy NC found that lawyers with a Virginia firm helped prepare nearly all the protests.
Dallas Woodhouse, executive director of the state Republican Party, said the rules would scare people away from filing protests.
“It will shut the door and it will keep common citizens out of the protests,” Woodhouse said.
The proposed rule goes beyond requirements in state law, he said. The new protest form people would sign includes information that fraudulent or false declarations are a low-level felony.
The board should not criminalize the filing of a protest, Woodhouse said. “The writing of this rule is nothing short of shocking,” he said.
In an interview, Woodhouse said citizen protests are an important check on the system.
Separate from the citizen protests, a Board of Elections investigation found that 508 ineligible voters cast ballots in November. A majority were felons serving active sentences.
The elections staff will compile all the comments on the rules for the new elections board to consider. Cooper, who defeated McCrory by around 10,300 votes, has asked the state Supreme Court to block the law creating a new blended elections and ethics board. He hasn’t appointed any members.
The legislature can disapprove rules that the board adopts.