STOP THE PRESSES! Amendment, Redistricting Fights Put NC Ballot Printing on Hold

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I’ve already written several times this year about the ongoing battles in North Carolina over elections, but the latest twist involves ballot printing. Specifically, two separate court orders have halted ballot preparation for the upcoming November 2018 general election – putting the state in danger of missing the 45-day federal deadline for mailing ballots to military and overseas voters. WFAE has more:

The North Carolina Board of Elections said Wednesday it has stopped work on preparing ballots for the Nov. 6 general election after back-to-back judicial rulings this week questioned whether the election can proceed as planned.

On Monday, a three-judge panel said that the state’s 13 congressional districts were created through an unconstitutional gerrymander based on partisanship. The panel proposed several possibilities for the upcoming election, including holding new primary elections in November and then a new general election after that, probably in December.

The North Carolina Supreme Court on Wednesday said the board should stop preparing the ballot, siding with the North Carolina NAACP, who said in a lawsuit the language on four constitutional amendments is misleading. One of the amendments would place a requirement in the state constitution that some form of photo ID be used when voting.

As I already noted, these delays put the state under pressure on the federal requirement to have ballots out to military and overseas voters 45 days before an election:

The board said federal law requires that absentee-by-mail ballots be available by Sept. 22, which is 45 days before the election.

The board said it takes about three weeks to prepare and deliver ballots to counties, and that it needs to start working on the ballots by Sept. 1. The board also said it’s “exploring additional options to ensure federal compliance if delays continue.”

Complicating matters is the fact that two separate court cases are involved: the one involving proposed state amendments shifting appointment responsibility from the Governor to the Legislature, and the redistricting challenge – which may or may not be resolved given a vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court:

The biggest question mark is the ruling that said the state’s congressional districts are unconstitutional.

Plaintiffs in the case, Common Cause and the League of Women Voters, and the leadership of the General Assembly have been told by the panel to file briefs on the ruling by 5 p.m. Friday. The board is also expected to file a brief detailing its logistical challenges to halting the Nov. 6 election. [emphasis added – DMCj]

The GOP leadership in the legislature has also said it will ask the U.S. Supreme Court for a stay, allowing the Nov. 6 Congressional election to continue as planned.

Political observers believe the Supreme Court will move to let the congressional election proceed, and then allow the three-judge panel to fix the congressional maps in early 2019. But it’s possible the court could be split 4-4, which would allow Monday’s ruling to stand.

Bottom line: North Carolina is facing a time crunch to get its military and overseas ballots – and if the delays continue, the whole election – ready in time. It’s a reminder that the best laid plans of election officials are often derailed by litigation – especially as Election Day slowly comes into view. Stay tuned!

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