North Carolina ballot

Ballot harvesting is the practice of allowing political operatives and others to collect voters' ballots and turn them in en masse to polling stations
A pair of state elections board members in North Carolina resigned this week after a lawsuit settlement pushed by the Democratic-controlled board that would tweak absentee ballot law to make ballot harvesting easier.

Ballot harvesting, or the practice of allowing political operatives and others to collect voters' ballots and turn them in en masse to polling stations, has drawn bipartisan concerns of fraud from election watchers.

Ken Raymond and David Black were the only two Republican members on the board that has been split 3-2. Notice of their resignations was submitted Wednesday night.

Raymond in his resignation letter said state Attorney General Josh Stein's office kept him in the dark on the details of a lawsuit the board voted -- unanimously -- to allow its counsel to settle last week.

"It is impossible to have true bipartisanship when both sides of the political aisle do not have the important and vital information needed to make the right decisions," Raymond said in his letter.

In Black's resignation letter, he did not accuse the attorney general's office of withholding information but said he was not made aware of at least one key element of the settlement proposal: how it would change the process of correcting and accepting mail-in absentee ballots that arrive without a witness signature.

State law requires that signature, and without it, a voter must cast another ballot to have his or her vote count. The proposed settlement would allow a voter to sign an affidavit, forgoing a witness signature.

"It was not my understanding that the cure would simply mean an affidavit, or cure document, would be sent to the voter for a confirmation that this ballot was their own," Black said in his resignation letter.

In addition to the witness-signature change, the settlement would require the state to count ballots that are postmarked by Election Day but don't arrive until Nov. 12. State law currently requires them to arrive by Nov. 6.

It would also allow people to drop their absentee ballots off curbside at local election offices without signing a logbook, fueling criticism that ballot harvesters will take advantage.

Democratic Party leader Marc Elias sued the General Assembly and the Board of Elections to relax absentee ballot fraud protections. The Board of Elections agreed to the settlement with the plaintiffs, but certain members say they weren't made aware of the details.

In a statement, Stein called the resignations "political theater at its most destructive."

"The Republican Party needs to start respecting democracy, instead of undermining it," he said.

State Sen. Leader Phil Berger characterized the change as: "Board of Elections has agreed with 'opposing' party in lawsuit funded by DC Democrats to ignore NC law, eliminate ballot witness requirements, and allow anonymous drop boxes for ballot harvesters."

At the same time, Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Forest submitted a letter to Attorney General William Barr, asking for a federal investigation into "the collusive attack on the integrity of North Carolina's elections."

"The fact that an executive agency would dare enter into an agreement that attempts to make substantial changes to our election law less than six weeks before the election raises serious concerns about the motives of all involved. It also raises serious legal concerns," Forest wrote.

State Board Chairman Damon Circosta said that the accusations made by Republicans were untrue.

"In a nearly three-hour meeting and in extensive briefings prior to the meeting, all board members were provided with the merits, both pro and con, of settling these lawsuits," Circosta said.