Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

Lewis details some legislative plans for upcoming session on TV show

Rep. David Lewis

Rep. David Lewis

Representatives David Lewis (R-Harnett) and Darren Jackson (D-Wake) spoke about the upcoming session on an episode this week of Capital Tonight, a TV show broadcast on Spectrum News.

The lame-duck session begins Nov. 27 and GOP legislators implementing constitutional amendments while they have their last little bit of veto-proof reign. Lewis said he expects they will draft a “good” voter identification bill and address the structure of the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement.

“Because as of December 4, we won’t have one, and it doesn’t even look like all the votes will be enacted at that point,” he said on the show, which aired Thursday night.

A three-judge Superior Court panel ruled the structure of the State Board, which was created by Republican lawmakers, unconstitutional. They wrote in a 2-1 opinion (along party lines) that the makeup of the State Board violates the separation of powers clause in the Constitution by diminishing the Governor’s control over the agency.

The current structure of the Board, per the court, would expire at midnight Dec. 3, hence Lewis’ comment about not having a Board on Dec. 4. Lewis also claimed on the show that lawmakers were working with the Governor’s Office to come up with a solution.

He said he also expected lawmakers to address hurricane relief, to draft a “very small” appointment bill and an even smaller technical corrections measure to maybe correct a spelling of something.

Capital Tonight host Tim Boyum asked Jackson, who is the House minority leader, if all of Lewis’ predictions for the session sounded right, but he didn’t know.

House Democratic Leader Darren Jackson

“We really don’t know what to expect on our side,” he said of Democrats.

Republican legislative leaders have largely left the minority party out of lawmaking since having their veto-proof majority.

The big topic of discussion on the show was the voter ID bill. North Carolinians voted to enact a voter ID requirement in the state constitution, and enabling legislation is expected to be contentious.

Lewis said lawmakers want to make sure everyone who is eligible to vote will be able to exercise that right, and he said they are looking at other voter ID laws that have been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. Their goal, he added, is to be even more expansive than those upheld laws they are studying.

Lewis also said House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger asked for the voter ID proposal to be sent to Jackson and Sen. Dan Blue (D-Wake) early next week to solicit feedback and input. They may even have a joint legislative hearing before the upcoming session.

Jackson told Boyum he hopes lawmakers will consider DMV and election administration resources as they move forward with their proposal.

“I just want to make sure, like Rep. Lewis said, that every voter who is eligible to vote can vote,” he added.

Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

Trump nominee Farr could be confirmed to Eastern District judgeship by end of year

Raleigh attorney Thomas Farr could be confirmed by the end of the year to the federal bench in Eastern North Carolina

Prominent GOP attorney Thomas Farr could be confirmed to a lifetime federal judge seat in Eastern North Carolina by the end of the year.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell filed cloture Thursday on Farr’s and Jonathan Kobes’ judicial nominations.

The U.S. District Court judgeship for the Eastern District of North Carolina has been vacant for nearly 13 years and has long been referred to as a judicial emergency.

Farr’s nomination has been deeply opposed by voting rights activists and organizations and legal stakeholders across the country. The debate about his fitness for the job has been ongoing, and cloture is a process by which McConnell seeks to end that debate and take a vote.

The NAACP strongly condemns Farr’s nomination and the Senate’s scheduling of his vote.

“The nation just experienced national elections which are not yet over and which were tainted by egregious voting rights violations,” a news release from the organization states. “That Majority Leader McConnell chooses this moment in time to vote on a judicial nominee known as the vote-suppressor-in-chief is not lost on anyone. It is a slap in the face to communities of color everywhere.”

Farr, the release states, poses a serious threat to civil rights, especially since he would preside over a jurisdiction with a large African-American population.

A Raleigh based attorney, Farr frequently represents the state’s Republican party in voting rights cases. He has been lead counsel for the GOP in redistricting cases and in the voter identification law challenge.

He was nominated by President Donald Trump last year and again this year, and if he’s not confirmed by the end of the year, he could be nominated again.

“Even among dangerous Trump nominees, Farr stands out for his decades-long crusade to disenfranchise African Americans,” the NAACP wrote. “He learned how to intimidate Black voters from segregationist Senator Jesse Helms and helped turn North Carolina into ground zero for voter suppression tactics. His nomination is a travesty. His confirmation would be heresy.”

The Eastern District of North Carolina serves 44 counties and has a combined Black population of nearly 30 percent. A black judge has never been appointed to serve on the bench, despite Obama’s nominations of Jennifer May-Parker and Patricia Timmons-Goodson — two very accomplished Black women. N.C. Sen. Richard Burr blocked both nominations.

Sen. Thom Tillis serves on the Judiciary Committee

He backs Farr, though. As does fellow N.C. Sen. Thom Tillis, who told the News and Observer that he looks forward to the floor vote.

“We urge each and every Senator to reject this judicial throwback to white supremacy and segregation,” the NAACP news release states. “The people of North Carolina and our entire country deserve better than this.”

People For the American Way Executive Vice President Marge Baker said Thursday that if McConnell and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) were looking to “illustrate their reckless and irresponsible approach to rubber stamping Trump’s dangerous judicial nominations, they couldn’t do much better” than Farr and Kobes.

Baker described both nominees as grossly unqualified for lifetime seats on the federal bench.

“Thomas Farr has been the go-to litigator for attacks on the right to vote in North Carolina,” she said in an emailed statement. “He defended the state’s aggressive campaign to disenfranchise voters in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Shelby County decision, its gerrymandered districts, and its efforts to throw up obstacles for eligible voters trying to register. A federal judge reviewing one law Farr defended noted that it targeted African American voters ‘with almost surgical precision.’ He also rushed to defend the state’s so-called bathroom law targeting transgender people.”

She also said a majority of the American Bar Association’s standing committee on judicial selection found Kobes to be “unqualified” for a seat on the federal bench given his paltry record.

“But he has political connections, which is all Senator Grassley needed to whisk him through the committee — again on a party line vote,” Baker wrote. “For Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee, cronyism trumps responsibility every time.

She added that they may have the votes to confirm Farr and Kobes, but they can’t hide their record of “good-old-boy politics and contempt for the rights of people of color.”

Defending Democracy

Charlotte Observer lambasts McCrory’s ‘irresponsible’ remarks on voter fraud

Pat McCrory was not on the November 6th ballot, but that didn’t stop the former governor from suggesting voter fraud by college students is real, and may have actually cost him his own re-election in 2016.

His comments came regarding the Senate and gubernatorial races in Florida, which remain too close to call after Election Day.

The Charlotte Observer was quick to point out the remarks by the former governor were not only false, they served to throw gas on claims at the national level that our election system is rigged.

Here’s the column from the Observer’s editorial board:

A small fire of doubt about America’s voting systems is simmering and politicians from Donald Trump on down are irresponsibly throwing kindling on the flames. In North Carolina, the lead arsonist may be Pat McCrory.

A Florida judge on Monday urged all sides in that state’s contentious US Senate recount to “ramp down the rhetoric,” saying he’d seen no evidence of wrongdoing and that voters needed to be reassured of the election’s integrity.

Just a few hours earlier McCrory, the former governor turned talk show host, was ramping up the rhetoric, making serious allegations of widespread voter fraud in North Carolina and suggesting that he lost his reelection bid in 2016 because of it. Besides being blatantly inaccurate, his remarks are irresponsible because they – without evidence – sow doubt among voters about the foundation of our democracy. Without faith in the legitimacy of our elections, things could crumble quickly.

Under the guise of giving advice to Republican Senate candidate Rick Scott in the ongoing Florida recount, McCrory portrayed North Carolina’s elections as rife with fraud.

His main focus was college students.

“In my particular election we had a lot of college students, who were out of state college students, vote, and they could do it because there was no voter ID which would have shown New Jersey license plates, Pennsylvania license plates, you name it,” McCrory said on his WBT radio show.

“The question is, where do they actually live? Do they live in Queens College or is their residence somewhere in New Jersey or Pennsylvania or Ohio? … If they voted in North Carolina and yet their car is registered elsewhere, they have a driver’s license from elsewhere, they are breaking the law and there is no way we can prove it.”

This is false. College students are allowed to vote based on their college residency. The Census counts college students as residents of their college town. Political district populations are based on students counting as residents and potential voters. And a 1978 unanimous NC Supreme Court ruling that remains in place today said that college students can vote in their college towns if they don’t plan to move back to live with their parents.

McCrory also questioned whether illegal immigrants are voting and alleged that Democrats organize to send voters to the wrong precincts and that illegitimate votes sneak through that way. He also recklessly described in detail a way campaigns could commit voter fraud.

McCrory contributes to the breeding of doubt among voters that elections are being conducted fairly and accurately. And it’s happening across the country, most loudly right now in Florida. Trump tweeted on Monday that “many ballots are missing or forged.” Scott also alleged fraud, even though the secretary of state he appointed said there’s no sign of any.

There are a few things in this area that all Americans of any party should agree on: The legitimacy of our voting systems is vital. Every legal vote should be counted. And throwing around demonstrably false charges, or serious charges with no evidence, weakens our state and nation.

Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

NC voters pass 4 constitutional amendments; lame-duck session looming

An amendment requiring a photo ID to vote passed by the smallest margin of the six proposed constitutional amendments on this year’s ballot.

North Carolina voters wrote four blank checks yesterday to GOP lawmakers who already said they plan to hold a lame-duck legislative session to implement constitutional amendments.

Those same lawmakers who lost their grip on their veto-proof supermajority are the ones who get to decide the future of voting in North Carolina after voters passed an amendment requiring a photo identification to cast a ballot. They voted for that amendment (55.51 percent to 44.49 percent) without a clue about what kind of photo ID lawmakers would require in a future election.

That means when they come back to Raleigh on Nov. 27, they could adopt implementation language that requires voters to show a student ID to vote or they could adopt language that prohibits student IDs and military IDs from being valid to vote. They could implement a similar voter ID law to the one that was previously struck down for discrimination.

Voters also approved similarly vague amendments that claim to protect North Carolinians’ right to hunt and fish, bolster victim’s rights and cap the state income tax at 7 percent. They rejected two amendments: one that would have given lawmakers the power to appoint judicial vacancies and another that would restructure the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement.

“Today’s election results on six proposed constitutional amendments reflect both major victories for our state and its democracy and the work left to be done to ensure more participation in that democracy, not less,” said Tomas Lopez, Executive Director for Democracy North Carolina. “While North Carolinians rejected deceptive amendments that would have undermined the independence of our courts and jeopardized the efficacy of our state elections board — major wins for all voters in our state — we have serious concerns that the passage of a vaguely-written voter ID amendment will be used by politicians in Raleigh to cement extreme limits to voting access for our state’s most marginalized populations.”

Members of the voting rights organization spent the past year traveling across the state to reveal the dangers of the sweeping voting restriction amendment. As a result, support for the proposed amendment dropped dramatically over the course of the fall.

Seventeen of North Carolina’s 100 counties voted against the voter ID amendment, which was the most counties against an amendment that was ultimately approved.

Allison Riggs, senior voting rights attorney at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, said the margin of the voter ID amendment outcome suggests that North Carolina voters are deeply conflicted on the issue.

“Legislators should take that into account when implementing an ID law and include signature attestation and other reasonable measures to make sure that eligible voters are not kept from voting in future elections,” she added.

The most popular of the approved amendments was one that could strengthen victim’s rights, as was expected. Only eight counties voted against that amendment. Not many people expressed opposition to the amendment during the campaign even though victim’s rights already are enshrined in the North Carolina constitution and despite the fact that any further rights in the amendment would be implemented “as prescribed by law.”

There was significant opposition from organizations to the tax cap amendment, which showed slightly in election results. Twelve counties voted against the amendment. The overall votes for it were 57.37 percent compared to 42.63 percent against it.

The amendment securing the right to hunt and fish passed with 57.13 percent of the votes for it compared to 42.87 percent against it.

Both of the amendments that failed did so with more than 60 percent of votes. Only seven counties voted for an amendment that would have transferred power from the Governor to the legislature for judicial vacancy appointments.

“After multiple efforts to undermine North Carolina’s judiciary, voters clearly rejected a constitutional amendment that amounted to nothing more than a legislative power-grab over our independent system of justice,” Riggs said in an email. “North Carolina citizens will continue to enjoy the benefits of separation of powers and courts that will reign in illegal legislative action.”

Only 11 counties voted for an amendment that would have restructured the State Board to consist of four Republicans and four Democrats, eliminating unaffiliated representation. That amendment was overwhelmingly viewed as another legislative power grab.

“The rejection of these two amendments shows that voters strongly believe in our state government’s separation of powers and do not support extreme power grabs by state legislators bent on rigging the system in their favor,” states a news release from the ACLU of North Carolina.

The organization noted its disappointment in the passage of the four other amendments and said the voter ID one would perhaps be the most consequential.

The last time North Carolina enacted a photo ID requirement for voting, lawmakers designed restrictions that a federal court found targeted Black voters ‘with almost surgical precision.’ More than 1,400 citizens were denied their right to vote under that law, according to the ACLU.

Many of those voters were turned away because they didn’t have “the right ID.” Those they did have — like student IDs and trucking licenses — were not accepted.

“While voters may have approved the photo ID requirement in concept, the fine details of the law must now be decided by many of the same lawmakers who passed the discriminatory 2013 law that was struck down,” the ACLU release states. “Over the next few weeks, people across the state must tell lawmakers that any discrimination against eligible voters will not be tolerated.”

Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

Voting hours extended at Gaston, Columbus county polling places

A majority of the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement voted Tuesday afternoon to extend voting hours in one Gaston County polling place and one Columbus county polling place after they reported Election Day disturbances.

The three Republican members of the Board, Stacy Clyde Eggers IV, John Randolph Hemphill and John Malachi Lewis voted against the extensions.

The Gaston County Board of Elections unanimously requested a 20-minute extension to voting hours after a fire alarm went off at the precinct at Ashbrook High School. Voting at that location was suspended from 11:20 to 11:40 a.m.

No voters left during that time and none were turned away, according to correspondence from Adam Ragan, Director of Gaston County elections. There were 16 voters inside at the time the fire alarm went off and about eight or nine showed up afterward.

Eggers said he applauded the county board of elections for coming to a unanimous decision in requesting the voting hours extension, but he did not support it because no voters were affected by the disturbance.

The Democratic members of the State Board – Chairman Andy Penry, Joshua Malcolm, Valerie Johnson and Stella Anderson – as well as unaffiliated member Damon Circosta voted for the extension.

They also voted for an extension at the South Williams precinct in Columbus County by an hour and 20 minutes. That location reported to the State Board that they did not have one of three ballot styles at the time the polling place opened at 6:30 a.m., and they did not have it until 8:20 a.m.

The Columbus County Board of Elections unanimously requested a two-hour voting extension, though the maximum allowable time for an extension is however long the disturbance was.

Eggers again expressed his opposition and said he would be more inclined to support only a one-hour extension or an extension that only applied to those voters casting the ballot style that was unavailable.

Circosta responded to him that it did not matter to him whether one voter or zero voters were affected when voting was unavailable for 110 minutes.

Eggers and his Republican colleagues voted against the extension, but it still passed.

There was also a voting extension request of 10 minutes at a Richmond County polling place, but only voting extensions in excess of 15 minutes are permitted, so it was not approved. There was also a 15-minute voting disturbance reported in Rowan County but the county board there did not request an extension.

Finally, Penry requested more information about reports he had seen that humidity was affecting some precinct voting tabulators.

Executive Director Kim Westbrook Strach said that there were several precincts reporting that the humidity was affecting the tabulation of some ballots, which were put in an emergency bin. Election administrators, through a public process, will tabulate those ballots correctly at the end of the night, she said.

Malcolm encouraged Strach to recommend election directors to inform the public of that process and she agreed she would after the meeting.

“I think it’s very important for the public see that happen and it be explained to the public,” he said.

Here are the two polling places with extended voting hours:

  • Closes at 7:50 p.m. – Ashbrook High School, 2222 S New Hope Road, Gastonia, NC 28054
  • Closes at 9:20 p.m. – South Williams-Tabor City Courthouse, 110 W Fourth Street, Tabor City, NC, 28463