Lawsuits over proposed constitutional amendments and a federal court ruling that the state’s congressional district boundaries are unconstitutional have thrown huge wrinkles in the state’s election timeline.
The state Supreme Court and a panel of federal judges have freezes on ballot preparation.
Though Election Day is months away, the state Attorney General’s Office said in a state court filing that the State Board of Elections has to begin preparing absentee ballots by Saturday.
The State Board of Elections did not respond to questions on Thursday. We asked Gerry Cohen, a former general counsel at the General Assembly with an expertise in voting and elections, about the potential ways the Board of Elections could handle the issue and if the state’s ever delayed an election.
Q: Will North Carolina vote Nov. 6?
A: Cohen said yes, because local races and legislative races are set. The uncertainty centers on when mail-in ballots will be ready, he said.
But it’s possible that congressional races won’t be on November ballots. The panel of federal judges raised the possibility of delaying congressional elections to accommodate changed election boundaries to correct what the court called partisan gerrymanders.
Q: Has the state ever delayed an election?
A: The Legislature pushed 2016 congressional primaries from March to June when the court ordered districts to be redrawn to correct racial gerrymanders. Ballots had already been printed, but votes cast in the March primary for congressional candidates were not counted.
In 1982, primaries and elections were delayed for legislative seats in Nash, Edgecombe and Wilson counties, Cohen said. The primaries were held in November and the election in January for four state House seats.
Q: Why does federal law require ballots be ready 45 days before an election?
A: A federal law called the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act is behind the requirement. The law aims to ensure that members of the military, their families, and U.S. citizens living overseas can participate in elections. The law requires states to send those voters absentee ballots at least 45 days before a federal election, according to the website for the Federal Voting Assistance Program. This year, Sept. 22 is the 45-day mark.
Q: Why does it take three weeks to prepare ballots?
A: The state has 1,400 ballot styles with combinations of congressional, legislative, district court, school board and other local races, and bond issues, Cohen said. It takes time not just to print those ballots, but to check them for accuracy and make sure they’re coded correctly.
Q: Can the state start ballot preparation for races not in dispute and wait until the court cases are settled to do the rest?
A: It’s possible, Cohen said. “That means, when you go in, you’d be handed two or three separate pieces of paper,” he said. That option would add to the cost. “It’s not a free solution,” he said, “but it’s out there.”