Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

Proponents of stricter voter ID show up to legislative public comment in full force

Thirty members of the public, many who wore stickers that said they voted for ID, spoke Monday to lawmakers about a draft voter ID bill. (Photo by Melissa Boughton)

Proponents of strict voter ID requirements dominated the public comment period Monday at the legislature, and their big concern was verifying the citizenship of those who cast ballots — a sign of the Trump times.

The majority of the roughly 30 people who spoke proudly wore red, white and blue stickers declaring “I voted for ID.” They spread false information about immigrants during their two-minute speeches and then high-fived and gave giddy thumb-ups signs to each other.

Lawmakers had a joint Elections Oversight Committee meeting to hear from voter ID stakeholders and community members and to discuss a draft bill released last week after North Carolinians voted to enshrine a photo ID law into the state constitution.

“We should just use NC REAL ID driver’s licenses and that is it,” said Elizabeth Temple, a teacher from Morrisville. “People are going to be making up fake IDs like some did in high school to buy beer.”

A REAL ID is a driver’s license that requires people to meet a universal set of federal standards to verify their identity. Temple, who wore one of the stickers, expressed concern about undocumented immigrants voting in elections and indicated that a REAL ID would prevent that from happening. She said that North Carolina was becoming Manhattan and that illegal aliens were draining school and police resources.

“These problems are coming from illegal voting and illegal entry and not requiring the NC REAL ID to vote,” she added.

Other proponents who spoke wanted lawmakers to omit student IDs from the acceptable photo ID provision in the draft legislation, tighten security measures and shorten the eight-year window allotted for temporary voter photo identity cards issued by the county boards of elections.

Gay Dillard spoke out Monday against including student IDs in a voter ID measure in North Carolina. (Photo by Melissa Boughton)

“The other big issue is on college campuses,” said Gay Dillard, who also wore a sticker. “Students come in, they live in our cities for a brief amount of time and they really are not true residents … we don’t know if they voted in our city and in their home residency, and so I have a real issue with who these students are. If you’re an online student, you get an ID, you can come into my community and you can vote with that ID.”

Dillard is the president of the Greater Greensboro Republican Women’s Club.

Acceptable forms of ID in the draft voter ID bill that are valid and unexpired would include a state drivers license or DMV identification card, a U.S. passport, a tribal enrollment card issued by a federally or state recognized tribe, a student ID issued by the University of North Carolina school system and a drivers license or photo ID issued by another state if the voter’s registration was within 90 days of the election.

The following photo IDs would be able to be used regardless of expiration or issuance dates: a military ID issued by the U.S. government; a veteran’s identification card issued by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs; any of the allowed IDs, even if they’re expired, if the voter is at least 70 years old, as long as the ID was unexpired on their 70th birthday.

Lawmakers heard presentations from two individuals representing the state’s independent colleges and universities and community colleges about their student ID processes and why they should be included in the acceptable ID provision.

Dr. Hope Williams of North Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities

Dr. Hope Williams, of NCICU, said their 36 campuses — which include Duke, Elon, Meredith, Catawba and High Point — enroll more than 90,000 students in the state and have a $14.2 billion economic impact.

“These cards are much more than just a piece of plastic with just a picture on them,” she said, adding that student IDs are a big part of safety and security, providing access to campus buildings, including residence halls, laboratories and classrooms.

Rep. David Lewis (R-Harnett) said at the end of the meeting that he would be more inclined to include more school IDs if there was a uniform way to have them process the student identifications.

State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement Executive Director Kim Strach also gave lawmakers a presentation about previous education efforts for voter ID requirements when it was passed in 2013. It was later struck down by a federal court for targeting African-Americans “with surgical precision.”

She said the three main components to their efforts were publicizing requirements to the public, identifying voters lacking a photo ID and assisting any registered voters in obtaining a photo ID.

Some lawmakers asked about the cost of the new voter ID bill, but Lewis said there was not yet a fiscal note with the bill. He estimated after the meeting that a starting point would be the $2-3 million Strach mentioned that was spent on voter education the first time around.

The North Carolina Budget and Tax Center has estimated the new bill could cost upward of $12 million.

A few people also spoke at the hearing who were against the voter ID bill but still made a few suggestions to make it better if implemented. That included making sure elderly voters who do not have good access to IDs are accommodated, increasing funding for the DMV and for more election resources and including more input from residents across the state.

“It’s going to affect the entire state,” said Aylett Colston. “I would ask that there be further opportunity for really robust conversation from people across the state.”

Lewis said after the meeting that there were not any current plans to hold any other hearings in any other parts of the state. He anticipates a voter ID bill will be filed in both the House and Senate tomorrow when the special session resumes.

Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

No public comment yet on voter ID? Here’s what NC Twitter users want

GOP legislative leaders released their draft bill yesterday on a photo identification mandate in North Carolina.

They will meet Monday to discuss the measure and here from various stakeholders, but there is not yet a planned public comment period for North Carolinians — who voted to pass the constitutional amendment in the first place — to weigh in on what they’d like to see.

NC Policy Watch detailed some of what voting rights advocates had to say about such a bill, but several individuals also responded yesterday to a Twitter question about what advice they would give lawmakers moving forward with legislation. Here are a few of their comments:

Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

Civil rights leaders urge Senators to reject Farr’s nomination to NC Eastern District

Thomas Farr

Thomas Farr is not just another one of President Donald Trump’s conservative judicial nominations.

A group of civil rights leaders spoke on a teleconference about their collective opposition to Farr’s nomination to the U.S. District Court bench in the Eastern District of North Carolina. The judicial vacancy is the longest running one across the nation at over 11 years.

Farr, who is a well known GOP attorney who has spent his career fighting against civil rights, was initially nominated by Trump in July of 2017 and then re-nominated again in January.

“It’s an insult to African Americans in the Eastern District and across the country,” said Janai Nelson, associate Director-Counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

The Eastern District of North Carolina houses almost half of the state’s Black population, but there has never been a Black federal judge there in the District Court’s 145-year history.

Nelson was joined by Vanita Gupta, President and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, Hilary Shelton, Director to the NAACP’s Washington Bureau and Senior Vice President for Advocacy and Policy, and a representative for the Rev. Dr. William Barber, President of Repairers of the Breach.

They expressed outrage that someone with Farr’s background and ties to white supremacists like Jesse Helms could serve on the federal bench and be trusted to administer justice fairly.

“Now more than ever, it’s crucial that judges who serve on the federal bench are fair and independent,” Gupta said. “He stands out among the nominees.”

She added that his nomination was part of the Trump administration’s larger plans to implement barriers to voting and roll back voting rights.

“All people in America deserve to have a justice system that lives up to its name,” Gupta said. “This administration has done what no recent administration has done and repeatedly rejects the need for diversity on our courts.”

Shelton referred to Farr as the “vote suppressor in chief” and called on Republicans and Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee to reject his nomination.

“Jesse Helms may be gone but in too many ways he lives on in Thomas Farr,” he said. “We must protect this court from the stain of bias and prejudice.”

Republicans only need one defector to defeat Farr’s nomination, as Sen. Jeff Flake from Arizona said he would not be voting to confirm any more judicial nominees until his colleagues vote on a bill to protect special counsel Robert Mueller who is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

Partisan gerrymandering plaintiffs ask state court to speed up proceedings

Common Cause has asked a North Carolina state court to expedite a trial over partisan gerrymandering.

The voting rights organization, along with the North Carolina Democratic Party and a group of individual voters filed a lawsuit last week in Wake County Superior Court challenging the redrawn 2017 legislative maps used in the midterm elections.

They filed a motion Tuesday to speed everything up (with a proposed timeline) and have asked the court to have a trial that begins April 15, 2019.

“It is in the overwhelming interest of both the parties and the public to resolve this case as expeditiously as possible to ensure that, if the 2017 plans are found unconstitutional, there is sufficient time to establish new, lawful districts for the 2020 primary and general elections,” the document states.

Deadlines relating to the 2020 elections are quickly approaching, according to the court document. The window for candidates to file for party primary nominations is scheduled to open Dec. 2, 2019 and primary elections will be held March 3, 2020.

A three-judge panel still has to be assigned to the case. Read the full motion to expedite below.

Motion for expedition by NC Policy Watch on Scribd

Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

1 of ‘Alamance 12’ questions NC voter suppression, sheds light on own experience

Keith Sellars is considered one of the “Alamance 12” — the 12 people, nine of whom are Black, who were prosecuted for illegally voting in the 2016 election while on parole.

Sellars, who lives in Haw River, wrote an editorial that recently that appeared in The Herald Sun explaining his life experiences and asking why politicians would want to suppress his vote.

One in three black men in the United States has been charged with a felony. In North Carolina, black men are incarcerated at four times the rate of white men. And here, as in most states, that can mean harsh restrictions on your right to vote. So even if we think these laws are unfair, the opportunity to influence them is taken from our hands. These experiences led me to want to get involved in the political process.

I voted in the 2008 and 2012 elections. I had trouble with the law again after that, but I was committed to turning my life around. I decided to practice my right to vote once again in 2016. I was told that I could and that I should, because it was the most important election of my life. I didn’t realize at the moment that I would be targeted, prosecuted, and threatened with yet another felony — and two years in prison — for exercising that right.

For me it’s important that we call this what it is: voter suppression. Other policies — including a proposed voter ID constitutional amendment, polling site closures and early voting restrictions, and partisan and racial gerrymandering — hope to do the same. I’ve suffered severe consequences to exercise my right to vote. Is it because politicians are afraid of poor and working people like me actually having a say in how we run things?

Sellars was one of five people from the “Alamance 12” who took a plea deal to lesser charges than felony voter fraud.

As part of the deals, Alamance County prosecutors dropped all felony voting-related charges for the five voters, who were represented by the Southern Coalition for Social Justice. Sellars and the other four individuals each pleaded instead to a charge of misdemeanor obstruction of justice.

The were sentenced to 24 hours of community service and 12 months of unsupervised probation. You can read Sellars’ full column here.