Trump Loses Fight Over N. Carolina Mail-In Ballot Deadline


President Donald Trump’s campaign can’t block a North Carolina deadline extension for accepting mail-in ballots even though the plan backed by Democrats is probably unconstitutional, a judge ruled.

The extension was improper because it was implemented by election officials rather than the state legislature, U.S. District Judge William Osteen said in a ruling late Wednesday in Greensboro, North Carolina. But the judge said it’s too close to the Nov. 3 contest to reverse such a significant change.

Unless it’s appealed, the new deadline -- created to accommodate more mail-in voting during the pandemic -- will allow the state to accept ballots for up to nine days after Election Day as long as they’re postmarked by Nov. 3.

“This change contravenes the express deadline established by the General Assembly,” said Osteen, an appointee of George W. Bush. However, “injunctive relief should be denied at this late date, even in the face of what appear to be clear violations.”

The ruling sets up yet another potential appeal over rules for mail-in voting less than three weeks before the election. A Pennsylvania judge on Saturday dismissed a suit brought by Trump’s campaign that challenged the state’s vote-by-mail procedures. In a similar case, a Minnesota judge on Monday rejected the GOP’s claim of potential voter fraud.

“We are weighing our options on how to proceed,” Mandi Merritt, spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee, said in an email about the North Carolina ruling.

North Carolina is one of several battleground states where Trump is partnering with the RNC and other GOP groups to challenge rules expanding access to mail-in voting. The president is trailing his Democratic competitor Joe Biden in the state by 3.3 percentage points, according to the latest Real Clear Politics average of polls.

In a separate ruling, Osteen on Wednesday ruled in favor of Republicans on another crucial change in North Carolina’s voting procedures. The judge agreed that election officials overstepped their authority by planning to ease a rule requiring a witness to sign mail-in ballot envelopes.

Election officials had planned to allow voters who forgot to have a witness sign their envelope to “cure” the error by sending a sworn affidavit affirming their right to vote, without a witness signature. But the judge granted a request by Timothy Moore, the Speaker of the North Carolina House of Representatives, to block election officials from implementing it.

The Trump campaign’s lawyer, Bobby Burchfield of King & Spalding LLP, declined to comment.

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