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Republican members resign from North Carolina's election board

(Reuters) - The two Republicans on the state elections board in battleground state North Carolina resigned late on Wednesday, saying they were misled about plans over how to handle absentee ballots in the November presidential election.

Republicans Ken Raymond and David Black stepped down from the five-member State Board of Elections after the group proposed letting voters correct errors without having to fill out an entirely new absentee ballot, according to a statement with their letters of resignation attached.

The election officials had also struck a tentative agreement on Tuesday to count any absentee ballots that arrive up to nine days after the Nov. 3 election, so long as they are postmarked by Election Day.

The board said in its statement that members had reached unanimous agreement after a full briefing from lawyers.

Arcane voting rules have become the subject of partisan legal battles in 2020 as the coronavirus, which has hit the United States particularly hard, put more focus on procedures for early voting and mail-in ballots.

Republicans have fought some efforts by Democrats and advocacy groups to ease access to the ballot box, citing the potential for fraud, logistical issues and concerns about how it would affect their election chances.

The Republican North Carolina elections board members said they were misled about the implications of the state’s latest decision by civil servants before they signed off on the change, a compromise intended to settle a lawsuit filed by the North Carolina Alliance for Retired Americans, a union-affiliated advocacy group.

“It is impossible to have true bipartisanship when both sides of the political aisle do not have the important and vital information needed to make the right decisions,” Raymond said in his letter.

The state’s Republican Party said the proposed changes were an “unconstitutional attempt to go around the democratic process” that could weaken protections against fraud.

Democrats, in response, railed against Republicans for what they said was a tirade against voting rights. “With 40 days until the election, they have resorted to lying and sowing distrust in our electoral process, all to cling to power,” said Darren Jackson, the state House’s Democratic leader.

North Carolina is a key battleground in the upcoming election, with competitive presidential, congressional and gubernatorial races this year.

Trump, who this month urged residents to try to vote twice in the election in the state, won North Carolina’s 15 electoral votes by 3.6 percentage points over Clinton in 2016, but Democratic challenger Joe Biden has shown a slight lead in recent opinion polls there.

Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt in Wilmington, Delaware, and Aishwarya Nair in Bengaluru; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Jonathan Oatis