FILE - In this Thursday, Sept. 3, 2020, file photo, stacks of ballot envelopes waiting to be mailed are seen at the Wake County Board of Elections in Raleigh, N.C. A federal judge has blocked updated North Carolina absentee voting rules that gave voters more leeway to fix witness problems and extended the period when elections boards could accept mailed-in ballots. U.S. District Judge James Dever issued a temporary retraining order on Saturday, Oct. 3 that blocked the updated rules that resulted from a legal settlement with voting rights advocates. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome, File) Election 2020 North Carolina Ballots
FILE - In this Thursday, Sept. 3, 2020, file photo, stacks of ballot envelopes waiting to be mailed are seen at the Wake County Board of Elections in Raleigh, N.C. A federal judge has blocked updated North Carolina absentee voting rules that gave voters more leeway to fix witness problems and extended the period when elections boards could accept mailed-in ballots. U.S. District Judge James Dever issued a temporary retraining order on Saturday, Oct. 3 that blocked the updated rules that resulted from a legal settlement with voting rights advocates. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome, File)

State and Republican party officials battle over changes to witness requirement for absentee ballots, a key consideration in a coronavirus-era election.

GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) — A federal judge is scheduled to hear arguments over whether North Carolina is providing voters sufficient opportunity to fix absentee ballots that arrive without full information on who witnessed them.

U.S. District Judge William Osteen was holding a hearing Wednesday afternoon concerning a trio of lawsuits filed over how the state handles absentee ballots. A key issue is the requirement under state law that anyone who casts an absentee ballot must have it witnessed by another adult. 

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Late last month, the State Board of Elections agreed to allow voters to fix incomplete witness information by sending in an affidavit rather than starting a new ballot from scratch. But the change drew harsh criticism from state Republican leaders and Trump campaign officials, who filed lawsuits challenging the changes before a federal judge in Raleigh. The judge hearing those cases, U.S. District Judge James Dever, temporarily halted the changes and then transferred the two cases brought by GOP leaders to Osteen.

Osteen was already presiding over a separate case brought by voting rights activists who argued that the state’s absentee ballot rules were too restrictive for voters coping with the coronavirus pandemic. 

In August, Osteen asked the state to ensure voters have a fair process to fix errors on their ballots. But he said in court papers last week that he has concerns that the process put in place by the state would essentially eliminate the one-witness requirement.