SBOE Takes Shot at Election Observers

July 28, 2017 Raleigh — North Carolina’s State Board of Election is attempting to roll back the rights of election observers to a pre-2010 era  that will enable election officials to eject poll observers with little or no justification, but they will accept public comment through either email (at elections.sboe@ncsbe.gov), an on-line portal, or in-person speeches, noon Monday, July 31, at their offices at 441 N. Harrington St., Raleigh, 27603.

The proposed code (which has the force of law) says, “an observer who leaves the voting place for any reason may be prohibited by the chief judge from returning if the observer’s return would cause a disruption in the voting enclosure.”

Click image to see video on this subject.

So which is it?

The first clause suggests that observers who leave “for any reason may be prohibited” from reentering the voting enclosure. Does “any reason” include going outside to observe a curbside voting transaction? How about if the observer needs to take a bathroom break?

The last clause stipulates the application of this rule, “if the observer’s return would cause a disruption in the voting enclosure.” Aside from the contradiction with the first clause, who gets to decide if the observer’s return would cause a disruption! And by the way, what is the appeals process for this ejection? Will observers now need access to attorneys who must parachute in to restore our legal rights?

Rolling Back the Bartlett-Era Rights

While elections are a highly partisan affair, we at VIP view election integrity as a non-partisan issue; but we must point out the partisan irony of this edict. First, it comes from the Republican appointed Executive Director, Kim Strach. Her predecessor, Gary Bartlett, who had who had very few fans among the NCGOP, actually granted far more permissive rights, but the Republican, Strach is rescinding them!

Mr. Bartlett’s October 18, 2010, memo allowed observers to exit the voting enclosure at any time, for any reason, and they could return, as long as that observer was still scheduled to attend. Such freedom allowed me to observe curbside voting, to make phone calls and even to scam a free hot dog from a candidate who was bending the rules! But all of that changes with this new, poorly conceived idea.

Wrong Direction

VIP is shocked because we have been pushing in the opposite direction for five years and a tone-deaf SBOE staff either doesn’t realize the nationwide trend or they do realize it…and want to subvert it.

Since we have no voter ID and no photography inside the voting enclosure, the only…make that ONLY safeguard we have against wholesale vote fraud is the observers. Election employees are powerless to stop any double or triple voters unless they want to get fired, so observers are our one and only hope.

In that spirit, we support HB 697, a bill that will perform the exact opposite effect of the current SBOE measure. It was primarily sponsored by Rep Speciale, but was quickly joined by Reps Boswell;  Clampitt; and Cleveland.

Help Wanted

First, if you have been an election observer in the past and feel that you were abused, bullied or ejected without warrant, the SBOE needs to hear from you NOW!!! You can use their on-line portal, send an email message (at elections.sboe@ncsbe.gov), or come to Monday’s hearing and speak you mind.

Second, your lawmakers need to hear from you, regarding a statute that grants observers some explicit rights to operate around the polling place without molestation by suspicious election officials. You can locate your NC General Assembly delegation at this site.

A Short History of Election Observer Rights in NC

Voter Integrity Project first proposed the idea of specified observer rights in 2013. Rep Blust liked the idea and included it in his bill, called, Voter Integrity, of all things! The same verbiage was sponsored into a proposed bill by Senators Cook, Sanderson and Rabin (SB 666) which died after the language was ingested into the first Senate version of the omnibus voter ID law (HB 589). Eventually, it was stripped out of the omnibus bill, after conservative groups lobbied against the provision, saying it would discourage recruitment of polling officials.

Days before the 2016 crossover deadline, Rep Speciale 2016, HB 697 sponsored HB 697 and it is eligible for consideration in the short session or in any special sessions, during the 2017 period.

References for this post:

NC SBOE Public hearing Notice

SBE Rules: Notice of Publication and Public Comment May 26, 2017 (please see last page)

Bartlett Memorandum_-_Observers_-_Oct_2010

Proposed current Observer Rights law, HB 697 – Obs_Rights Bill

Proposed original Observer Rights law, House version, HB 913, 2013-2014 session (please see bottom of page 4)

Proposed original Observer Rights law, Senate version, within SB 666, 2013-2014 session (please see pages 2-3)