A judge for the US District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina issued an opinion on Wednesday denying preliminary injunctions in two cases, both of which sought to prevent the enforcement of memos released by the North Carolina State Board of Elections (SBE) pertaining to absentee voting. Both cases, Moore v. Circosta and Wise v. North Carolina State Board of Elections, came to the court from the Eastern District of North Carolina after it issued Temporary Restraining Orders (TROs) in both cases on October 3.
Memos released by the SBE over the last two months have altered the way that absentee ballots in North Carolina would be treated. In its 91-page opinion, the court explained the changes in the SBE’s latest memo:
First, the guidance clarifies that if a witness or assistant does not print their address, the envelope is deficient. Second, the guidance states that failure to list a witness’s ZIP code does not require a cure; a witness or assistant’s address may be a post office box or other mailing address; and if the address is missing a city or state, but the county board can determine the correct address, the failure to include this information does not invalidate the container-return envelope. Third, if both the city and ZIP code are missing, the guidance directs staff to determine whether the correct address can be identified. If they cannot be identified, then the envelope is deficient (Citations omitted).
The court first addressed the Defendants’ claims regarding abstention, finding that they were able to hear these cases. Then, the court moved on to consider the Plaintiffs’ Equal Protection claims and determined that the memos constituted arbitrary and disparate treatment, that the Plaintiffs were likely to succeed on the merits, and that voters could suffer irreparable harm.
However, the court was bound to deny the injunctions under Purcell v.Gonzales, though it felt the Plaintiffs were entitled to them. According to Purcell, “[Voting] issues may be taken up by federal courts after the election, or at any time in state courts and the legislature. However, in the middle of an election, less than a month before Election Day itself, this court cannot cause ‘judicially created confusion’ by changing election rules.”
In a separate opinion, Judge William Osteen granted an injunction against the SBE from authorizing the acceptance of absentee ballots without a witness or assistant signature.