Caught: NCSBE Suppression of Election Day Observers

Jan 11, 2022 (Updated 1-18-22) RALEIGH — Through a FOIA treasure trove, the Voter Integrity Project has learned how Katelyn Love, the General Counsel at NC State Board of Elections, got caught manipulating NC Republican officials into reducing their allowable election precinct-specific observers from six to two.

SBOE Chief Counsel Katelyn Love

Love’s veiled directive may have violated a state law (NCGS §163-45) that permits observers to be relieved after serving a minimum four-hour shift.

Instead, the her agency quietly mandated that observers remain in place for the entire 12-hour voting period and if they left for any reason, they could never return.

The three-email paper trail (click here to download all three messages) of this illegal policy began with an October 9, 2020 email sent to all 100 county election directors and then to NCGOP Chief Counsel, Philip Thomas.

The poorly written directive said, “the Chair of each political party in a county may designate two precinct-specific observers to attend each one-stop site.”

State law allows two observers per 4-hour shift, for a maximum six observers over the 12-hour Election Day voting period.

By reducing the limit to two, the policy gave county chairs an impossible task of only recruiting observers willing to remain in place all day. They could not be relieved and if they left for any reason whatsoever, they could not come back.

Philip Thomas, the initial recipient of the Love memo, is Chief Counsel for the NC Republican Party. When asked about the newly discovered email, he described it as an SBE response to questions about the deadline for submitting observers and nothing else.

His staff even circulated a memo to county party leaders that contradicted the 12-hour rule. (See link here.)

We’ve still been unable to determine how, but several county party leaders were still under the impression that only two precinct-specific observers were allowed on Election Day.

Former Cumberland County GOP Chair, Jackie Taylor

The one county chairwoman we found who openly objected to the policy was Cumberland’s Jackie Taylor. She had recruited more than 100 observers and was having trouble plugging them all into shifts, so she complained to the NCGOP headquarters.

Her call was routed to the Director of Election Day Operations, an attorney hired by the Trump Campaign Committee named Heather Ford. Before starting her private practice, Ford worked  in the campaign finance section at the State Board of Elections, so she knew their inner workings.

Ford picked up the phone and called the policy’s author, Kaitlyn Love and fought to resolve the problem. She finally had to read the law aloud to Love in order to sway her. Ironically, Love’s job as Agency Counsel meant she is paid by NC taxpayers to implement and enforce our election laws.

Ford followed up their conversation with an email to Love, restating the law and suggesting she forward the correct policy to all 100 counties, which Love did do.

But it was too late.

How SBE Sabotaged 2020’s Election Day Observer Program

The date of Ford’s email was October 29, 2020 at 9:14 AM. Love’s email to the county Directors was sent out at 9:48 that same morning. The deadline was 10 o’clock.

Individuals authorized to appoint observers must, prior to 10:00 A.M. on the fifth day prior to any primary or general election, submit in writing to the chair of the county board of elections two signed copies of a list of observers appointed by them, designating the precinct or at-large status for which each observer is appointed.”  (NCGS §163-45(b))

The one-stop early voting period in 2020 ran from October 15 to the 31st, so the party could add no more observers for one-stop. And unless all of the party’s 100 county Chairs could respond immediately, they had just 12 minutes to recruit and report the names of any observers they happened to find.

With the state’s nearly 2,700 Election Day precincts, they needed at least 5,400 observers to jump up and help… in twelve minutes.

Election observers are a federally protected class, codified in the Voting Rights Act of 1965, but the election agency headed by Karen Brinson Bell managed to disenfranchise potentially thousands of such observers from ensuring election integrity.

How can our legislature expect Bell’s attorneys to protect the 100 at-large-observer law in the NAACP’s lawsuit when she illegally restricted observer rights after the suit was filed?

By the way . . . this is exactly why VIP partnered with Public Interest Legal Foundation to petition for defendant intervenor status. Our motion was later denied, but this ain’t over.


[Note: Love and Bell failed this time around, but their delaying actions had the same effect. Later on, they sought an alternative route to restricting observer rights. This post is long enough, so we’ll cover that issue another day!]

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