NC halts plan to resolve ballot issue with voter affidavits

FILE - In this Sept. 3, 2020, file photo, workers prepare absentee ballots for mailing at the Wake County Board of Elections in Raleigh, N.C. The coronavirus pandemic is forcing millions of American voters worried about their health to scramble to vote by mail for the first time. But a requirement in a handful of states, including presidential battleground North Carolina and Wisconsin, that a witness or notary public sign a ballot envelope is tripping up some voters early. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
FILE - In this Sept. 3, 2020, file photo, workers prepare absentee ballots for mailing at the Wake County Board of Elections in Raleigh, N.C. The coronavirus pandemic is forcing millions of American voters worried about their health to scramble to vote by mail for the first time. But a requirement in a handful of states, including presidential battleground North Carolina and Wisconsin, that a witness or notary public sign a ballot envelope is tripping up some voters early. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

RALEIGH, N.C. – Pending a legal review, the North Carolina State Board of Elections is suspending steps to allow voters to correct absentee ballots lacking the required witness signature by signing an affidavit.

In a memo sent to county elections officials on Thursday, the state board's executive director, Karen Brinson Bell, ordered them to hit the brakes on the plan.

“Absentee envelopes with a missing witness signature shall be kept in a secure location and shall not be considered by the county board until further notice," Bell wrote.

Last week's memo had directed counties to send out affidavits to the thousands of voters who need to correct witness-related issues in order for their ballots to count. State data has shown that ballots cast by Black voters have been set aside by county boards because of incomplete witness information at a higher rate than other voters.

Before the state began encouraging the use of affidavits, local elections officials had to send out an entirely new ballot for voters to complete with all the necessary information.

A federal judge on Wednesday expressed concern that last week's memo from the state elections board to issue affidavits instead of a new ballot would essentially upend the witness requirement.

Federal Judge William Osteen ordered a status conference to address his concerns that the affidavit directive doesn't comply with a ruling he issued in August upholding the need for a witness.

“This court finds a status conference is necessary in light of this court’s present concern that alleged compliance with this court’s order is resulting in elimination of a duly-enacted statute requiring a witness to an absentee ballot,” Osteen wrote. The conference will be held on Wednesday.