‘Blindsided’: GOP elections board members resign over absentee ballot settlement

RALEIGH — The two Republican members of North Carolina’s state elections board have resigned after signing off on a settlement to help voters fix absentee ballot problems that has been criticized by state GOP leaders, officials said Wednesday.

The State Board of Elections is having a meeting two days after the announcement.

Ken Raymond and David Black announced their resignations late Wednesday from the North Carolina State Board of Elections over the tentative agreement to let voters correct problems with witness information on their absentee ballots without filling out an entirely new ballot. The agreement would let voters fix certain witness information problems by filling out an affidavit instead of starting a new ballot from scratch. Raymond and Black had joined the three Democratic state board members in unanimously approving the settlement, which was announced Tuesday and is subject to a judge’s approval.

“It’s just kind of a disappointing way for things to go out,” Black said.

In a letter announcing his resignation, Raymond argued that lawyers with the state attorney general’s office didn’t explain all the implications of the settlement before he signed off. Black also said in a separate letter that he didn’t have a full understanding of how the ballot fixes outlined in the settlement would work before he approved it.

Resignation Letters:

Black told Channel 9 it was a move made in protest of changes to absentee ballots. Black said he and Raymond voted for the changes the day before the announcement.

“The procedure they’re using now is not how I envisioned it,” Black said.

A statement issued by state elections board spokesman Pat Gannon thanked the two for their service and said that the agency’s legal staff had explained the settlement to board members before they unanimously agreed to it.

“We appreciate their service to the State Board, particularly the knowledge and perspective they provided from their years of service as members of county boards of elections,” The North Carolina State Board of Elections wrote in a statement.

Republican legislative leaders have sharply criticized the agreement that the board made in response to a lawsuit filed by an advocacy group that argued absentee ballot requirements were too restrictive.

Sources told WTVD, the proposed settlement, if approved, will likely be challenged by President Donald Trump in federal court.

“Attorneys from AG Josh Stein’s office did not advise us of the fact that a lot of the concessions made in the settlement have already been denied in a prior case by a federal judge and another case by a state court three-judge panel,” Black wrote in part.

The sudden resignation of the two members, effectively, reduces the NC State Board of Elections to three.

Stein issued the following statement Thursday morning:

“This is political theater at its most destructive. The Republican Party needs to start respecting democracy, instead of undermining it. The proposed consent order is a negotiated compromise response to the greatest public health crisis in 100 years, the USPS slowing of mail delivery, and a federal court order mandating a cure process for mail-in ballot errors. I am committed to ensuring that all eligible voters in North Carolina are confident in the knowledge that they can vote easily and safely by mail or in person -- and that the candidate who wins the most votes will prevail.”

“It is appalling that Roy Cooper and Josh Stein have set up a totally partisan operation at the Board of Elections - which is in the process of completely overhauling North Carolina election rules after voting has already begun. The Board needs to set aside their partisan objectives, comply with their statutory obligations and administer the elections fairly,” said NCGOP Chairman Michael Whatley. “After the Democrats shameful tactics, it is fully appropriate for the Republican members to resign in protest, and we will submit suitable replacements as quickly as possible.”

Whatley is now in charge of finding two nominees to fill the vacant seats and hopes to do that as soon as possible.

“We want to be very careful and make sure we have the right people that are going to defend Republican voters' interest on the board,” Whatley said.

The Board of Elections is vetting a long list of candidates, he said.

The party will send three choices to Gov. Roy Cooper, who will make the final decision.

Political expert Michael Bitzer said the resignations are the last thing voters need 41 days ahead of the General Election when mail-in voting is the highest it’s ever been.

“I think this is a continuing sign of the gridlock and polarization we are all experiencing,” Bitzer told Channel 9.

This comes when voters are already questioning the election’s integrity.

“If the seats are left vacant, and we see other resignations of Republican legislation officials, this will raise a real danger sign in my mind,” Bitzer said.

On Thursday, Lt. Gov. Dan Forest sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General William Barr. In a release, the letter requests that Barr “immediately investigate recent actions by the North Carolina State Board of Elections and Attorney General Josh Stein that will undermine the integrity of our November elections.”

Read the letter here.