Judge delays ruling on N. Carolina absentee ballot procedure

Absentee Ballot, Mgn Image

GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) — A federal judge in North Carolina criticized an absentee ballot procedure giving voters more leeway to fix incomplete witness information, but said he’d issue a written ruling at a later time.

U.S. District Judge William Osteen on Wednesday heard oral arguments in a tangle of lawsuits over how mail-in ballots will be processed. A key issue is how state and local elections boards should implement a state law requiring absentee voters to have an adult witness their ballot and provide the person’s printed name, signature and address.

The state had recently developed a new procedure to allow voters to fix incomplete witness information by returning an affidavit to county officials, but not filling out a new ballot from scratch and having it witnessed again.

But Osteen said he has concerns that the procedure would essentially eliminate the witness requirement. He had previously ruled in August that the state had to ensure voters could fix certain deficiencies, but at the time he upheld the witness requirement in state law.

The procedure for fixing the ballots with incomplete witness information has already been temporarily halted pending Osteen’s decision after GOP leaders challenged the new rules. But voting rights advocates argue that thousands of ballots with deficiencies are essentially in limbo until a clear process is developed for handling them.

Osteen said at the end of Wednesday’s hearing that he intended to issue a written ruling early next week.