Elections Board Violates Own Best Practices in Early Voting Shift

County boards of elections normally have until midsummer to select early voting sites for the November election and submit their lists to the North Carolina State Board of Elections (SBE). That is a best practice because it gives local officials time to secure locations and confirm that they have enough funding from their county governments to pay for them. It also allows them to better adapt to any changes that might require them to alter their lists.

It is, therefore, concerning that the SBE has abruptly decided to change the deadline from August 2 to May 7.

An Abrupt Change From Precedent and Best Practice

For each of the past four federal elections, the deadline for counties to submit early voting locations was in August or September. The State Board even stated that it was a “best practice” to submit their lists five weeks before absentee ballots were made available and listed August 2 as the deadline for counties to submit their “early voting implementation plans” in their Master Election Schedule (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: Detail of SBE 2024 Master Election Schedule before April 16 alteration. Highlight added.

Then SBE Executive Director Karen Brinson Bell announced on April 1 that they expected county election boards to submit their early voting location lists by May 7. In Bell’s defense, she noted in the email that the change was at the direction of SBE Chair Alan Hirsch.

Stonewalling from the SBE and a Retroactive Calendar Change

I reached out to the SBE about the date change on April 8 and again on April 15. While they are generally good at responding to inquiries, they have been completely silent about this topic.

I am not alone in facing that silence. In an April 4 interview with radio host Pete Kaliner, SBE board member Kevin Lewis said that no explanation for the sudden change “has been offered to me.” North Carolina Republican Party Chair Jason Simmons complained in a letter to the SBE that Hirsch “refused to discuss concerns brought to State Board members and speak to the rationale behind the decision” at the board’s last meeting on April 11.

One thing the SBE did do was change the date in the Master Election Schedule for counties to submit their early voting sites on the morning of April 16 (Figure 2). The date on the calendar was changed from the original August 2 to Bell’s May 7. Furtunately, I had already downloaded the original schedule, a detail of which is seen in Figure 1.

Figure 2: SBE Master Election Schedule page showing a modification at 11:27 AM on April 16.

Of course, the SBE did not write in the schedule that it is a best practice to demand that counties submit their early voting lists three months ahead of the normal schedule and during the second primary. That is because it is not a best practice, and there is no legitimate reason to force the change of date.

The Smell of Partisan Hackery at the State Board of Elections

So why make the change? Simmons suggests that the board is “acting with clear partisan intent” to lock early voting sites in place while Democrats are in full control of the SBE and all county elections boards. There is an ongoing court case on SB 749, a bill that would make elections boards bipartisan. The SBE has not offered evidence to the contrary.

Would the North Carolina State Board of Elections act in such a blatantly partisan manner? This is the same SBE that has twice sought to illegally suppress election observers and entered into a collusive lawsuit settlement that undermined North Carolina election laws. So, yes, it would.

This is another reason for elections boards to be made bipartisan.

UPDATE: The Carolina Journal has more on how the “NCSBE quietly modifies election document.”