Tillis, Cunningham at odds on Supreme Court pick, absentee voting

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 2, 2020

By Bryan Anderson

Associated Press/Report for America

RALEIGH —  Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina said in a debate Thursday night with Democratic challenger Cal Cunningham that the president’s nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court — if appointed — should not recuse herself in any potential cases involving the 2020 presidential election.

“I don’t believe that she should (recuse herself), but that’s a decision that she’ll make based on the facts,” Tillis said of President Donald Trump’s choice, Amy Coney Barrett. who awaits the Senate confirmation process. “It’s a very well-documented recusal process, and I trust Amy Coney Barrett and all the nine justices to act appropriately.”

Concerns about the Supreme Court and mail-in voting in this year’s presidential election took center stage at Thursday night’s debate.

Cunningham declined to say whether he thinks Barrett is qualified to be on the nation’s highest court. He said that, if elected, he would reserve judgment until meeting her.

“I would meet with her and I would put her through hearings and give her a job interview before I would give her my vote,” Cunningham said. “The fact of the matter is that stands in stark contrast to what Sen. Tillis has proposed.”

The day after Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death, Tillis told Trump supporters gathered at a rally in Fayetteville, that he’d support any of the justices Trump had on his list of potential candidates.

In 2016, Tillis opposed then-President Barack Obama’s nomination of Judge Merrick Garland, arguing that “the voice of the American people should be heavily weighted in that decision and their voice will soon be heard on Election Day.”

On another issue, Tillis said he believes absentee ballot rule changes pushed by North Carolina Democrats have “set the groundwork for lawsuits” in that state.

Tillis, who is voting by mail this year and has praised North Carolina’s absentee voting process throughout the election cycle, said he is concerned about recent changes.

Updated guidance unanimously passed last week by the North Carolina State Board of Elections is being challenged in state and federal court.

The two Republican members of the five-member board  resigned shortly after receiving substantial pushback from state GOP leaders. The state’s Republican Party said Democrats misled the members into supporting the easing of certain voting procedures.

At the center of the debate is a six-day extension for counties to receive absentee ballots postmarked by Election Day and a process in which voters who filled out their ballots without the necessary witness information could receive an affidavit to correct the problem — rather than having to fill out an entirely new ballot.

“It’s a dramatic change that I hope can be halted,” Tillis said.

Federal Judge William Osteen said Wednesday that the affidavit directive doesn’t comply with a ruling he issued in August upholding the need for a witness because it would effectively eliminate the witness requirement mandated under state law. Osteen’s criticism of the memo the state elections board issued last week prompted the group to announce on Thursday it would halt plans to resolve ballot issue with voter affidavits.

Cunningham signaled support for the new process because he wants to ensure all eligible votes can be counted. “We want people to participate, and I have confidence that we will end up in a place where folks will and should have confidence in the outcome,” he said.