A judge agreed on Thursday to halt a North Carolina Board of Elections (NCSBE) rule that places a time requirement on at-large election observers after the Republican National Committee (RNC) and local Republicans filed a lawsuit demanding election transparency in the state.
Judge Vince Rozier in the Wake Superior Court granted the RNC’s request for a preliminary injunction ahead of the high-stakes 2022 midterm elections. The injunction pauses a 2018 rule issued by the Board of Elections that requires at-large observers to serve at least four hours before a new observer may take his or her place.
The lawsuit, filed by the RNC, the NCGOP, and the Clay County GOP chair in September, contends that enforcing the administrative rule “constitutes a unilateral, unlawful application” of existing state election law and exceeds the NCSBE’s authority. The lawsuit complaint states that the four-hour mandate “harms the RNC and NCGOP because Republican Party observers will be improperly restricted from observing the election process as ‘[they] may desire,'” as detailed in state law.
“Moreover the at-large observer role was created to help fill the gaps in coverage created by a lack of site-specific observers. The at-large observer could alleviate a site specific observer who may need to leave a voting place early or needs to arrive late,” the complaint states.
RNC chairwoman Ronna McDaniel called the preliminary injunction a “legal victory” and celebrated the action as a step toward election transparency in the state.
“The RNC, NCGOP, and Clay County GOP Chairman sued the North Carolina Board of Elections because North Carolinians deserve transparency at the ballot box,” McDaniel said, adding:
This legal victory protects the rights of poll watchers and underscores the Republican Party’s commitment to free, fair, and transparent elections in the Tar Heel State. As midterms approach, we will continue our fight to make it easier to vote and harder to cheat in North Carolina and nationwide.
“Transparency is critical when it comes to the election process,” NCGOP chairman Michael Whatley added. “In upholding the rule of law and ensuring opportunities for at-large observers, this ruling is a win for the voters of North Carolina.”
The complaint notes that the NCSBE has sporadically enforced its rule in recent elections since it was issued, but sent out written guidance for the 2022 election cycle saying it will now enforce the rule. The NCGOP in a statement said the NCSBE’s actions reflect how “the hyper-partisan State Board has made a habit of circumventing the General Assembly by twisting, and in some cases, completely changing the meaning of North Carolina election laws.”
The judge’s order only halts the NCSBE’s enforcement of the rule. A hearing on the merits of the RNC’s claims will be heard at a later date.