Meet Sophie Mead: The student who sued the General Assembly

Senior Sophie Mead sits inside Belk Library’s Special Collections Research Center Feb. 21. Mead is a passionate voter who sued the North Carolina General Assembly after her vote was challenged.
Senior Sophie Mead sits inside Belk Library’s Special Collections Research Center Feb. 21. Mead is a passionate voter who sued the North Carolina General Assembly after her vote was challenged.
Taylor Ward

When Sophie Mead walked into Plemmons Student Union to vote in the primary election on Feb. 19, she said she had a new perspective. She showed her ID to the poll worker, double-checking her personal information when receiving her ballot. 

“As I’m going to vote, I’m looking at everything very closely and making sure my address is right, my date of birth is right, my name is spelled right,” Mead said. 

Mead, a senior digital marketing major, knew these were important things to do, but she views them differently after suing the North Carolina General Assembly in October 2023. 

A local citizen with no connection to her, Mead said, challenged her ballot in the 2022 general election.

According to the North Carolina State Board of Elections, challenges to voter ballots are most often based on false or misleading information provided in a voter’s registration. The challenge to Mead’s ballot was cited as a misrepresentation of address. 

Mead said she used same-day registration during the early voting period in October 2022 when the poll worker handling her ballot made a clerical error under the address section of Mead’s registration form. This error caused the Watauga County Board of Elections to flag Mead’s ballot when it delivered voter registration cards.

The Watauga County Voting Rights Task Force is a local group that conducts surveys and informs people about upcoming elections, according to its website. Mead has volunteered with the task force since 2020. 

Members of the task force contact voters with challenged ballots in the county throughout the early voting period until the county board of elections certifies results 10 days after Election Day. The task force does this for every election in the county. 

Being familiar with the process and having made the calls several times herself, Mead said she was shocked when she received a call. 

Mead said she would not have known her vote was being challenged unless she had her coworker from the task force’s number saved. 

“Hadn’t it been somebody I knew because of my involvement, I probably would have not answered the phone call and would have never known that my vote was being challenged,” Mead said.

Mead was able to reinstate her ballot after being notified of the error and had her ballot restored into the vote totals.

Stella Anderson is a volunteer with the Watauga County Voting Rights Task Force and a former member of the Watauga County Board of Elections who represented the task force in the lawsuit as a plaintiff. 

Anderson said although Mead’s original ballot stands, it will serve as a precedent for voter suppression in light of the passing of North Carolina Senate Bill 747, a new piece of legislation that makes multiple changes to election laws in North Carolina. 

Among these changes is a provision to strike down a voter’s registration and pull voter’s ballots on a case-by-case basis for future elections if a mistake similar to the one made on Mead’s ballot were to occur.

This measure would immediately remove a voter’s ballot from the vote totals without a provision to reinstate the validity of the ballot, Anderson said. 

“You are going to be disenfranchised, and there will be no question about it,” Anderson said. 

The law passed after the North Carolina legislature overrode Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto on Oct. 10. 

“This attack has nothing to do with election security and everything to do with keeping and gaining power,” Cooper said in a video posted to YouTube after he vetoed the bill in August. 

Mead’s attorneys filed the suit on behalf of Mead, the voting rights task force, and other voting rights organizations on Oct. 10, shortly after the legislature overrode Cooper’s veto.

Mead said she is particularly concerned about the automatic removal of ballots as part of the new law because of the thin margin of votes between candidates in the 2022 election. 

According to 2022 general election records from the Watauga County Board of Elections, the race for District 3 of the County Board of Commissioners came close. Republican Braxton Eggers and incumbent Democrat Billy Kennedy’s race came down to six votes, which triggered an automatic recount where Eggers won the seat by the same margin of votes.

“If mine, or any other challenged vote didn’t count, it could have been a very different outcome,” Mead said. 

Mead said she wished the county board of elections would step in to notify voters of challenges made to their ballots. 

Michael Behrent, chair of the Watauga County Board of Elections, said the board functions to monitor the election process, not to intervene.

“It’s really kind of a citizen’s oversight board for the work of the elections staff,” Behrent said. 

Mead, one of two individual plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said being involved with so many large entities in the lawsuit was intimidating but believes it is important for others to know what can happen to their ballots. 

“I am your average student, where I move a lot, and same-day registration is important for me, and I will rely on that in the next coming years as I continue to move,” Mead said. 

Mead said she encourages voters to reach out to the task force if they have questions or find themselves in a situation like hers. 

“We will serve as a guide for them and help them figure it out,” Mead said. “That’s what happened with me and eventually my vote was able to end up counting.” 

On Jan. 21, a court temporarily blocked the provision Mead challenged. 

The temporary block allows voters to appeal if a similar situation to Mead’s occurs, instead of having their vote immediately removed from election counts.

Since the suit, Mead says the voting process is more important to her now and she tries not to take it for granted.

“For me, it’s empowering to walk through and into the room and know what I’ve gone through to make this fair for everybody,” Mead said.

Sophie Mead on App State’s campus outside of Plemons Student Union on Feb. 21. (Taylor Ward)
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  • W

    Willi ColemanMar 23, 2024 at 2:04 pm

    Thanks for this information and hugs to all you young
    folks. You’ve made this senior citizen so proud and happy.
    Keep it up and don’t be scared and don’t be turned around!