Scandal, Litigation Cast Cloud Of Uncertainty Over NC Elections

Oct 5, 2020

Scandal and litigation have cast a cloud of uncertainty over North Carolina elections. On Friday, incumbent Republican Sen. Thom Tillis announced he had tested positive for coronavirus. He's in self-isolation experiencing mild symptoms.

Notably, Tillis serves on the Senate Judiciary Committee and he’s the second member of that panel to test positive – along with Republican Michael Lee of Utah.

If Tillis and Lee are out for some time, the Republican majority's efforts to quickly push through Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett could be delayed.

Late Friday, after the coronavirus news, Democratic challenger Cal Cunningham's campaign confirmed he had been sending sexually suggestive text messages to a campaign strategist who is not his wife nor the mother of his children. In a statement, the Democrat apologized for his actions, said he takes full responsibility, and added that he would not be dropping out of the race. Cunningham has tried to portray himself as a middle-of-the-road veteran family man.

Cunningham has been leading Tillis in the polls for months. Strategists believe North Carolina’s Senate race could be the determining point as to which party holds power in the next Congress.

Meanwhile, litigation over absentee voting in North Carolina has taken more twists and turns in the past few days than a Formula One driver navigating the course at the Monaco Grand Prix.

At issue is a legal settlement hammered out by the state elections board and plaintiffs seeking to ease the absentee voting rules. It would allow voters whose ballots are missing required witness information to cure the problem by affidavit instead of getting a new ballot.

But GOP state lawmakers accused the board's Democratic majority and North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein of colluding to circumvent the witness requirement. Stein is a Democrat up for reelection. Polls show Democrats are much more likely to vote by absentee ballot this year than Republicans.

A federal District Court judge ruled last week the proposed cure-by-affidavit for absentee ballots violated his order in another elections case.

Then on Friday, a Wake County judge okayed the proposed cure only to see another federal judge block it a day later. So just one month from Election Day -- and with ballot processing already underway -- elections officials must wait for further guidance on how to cure deficient ballots.