Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

Nine-member Board of Elections, Ethics Enforcement will revert to old structure Monday

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect a tweet from a Republican legislative leader.

The nine-member Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement will revert back Monday to five members appointed by the Governor if lawmakers don’t attempt a sixth time to restructure it.

It has not yet been made clear what transition process will be in place, if any, and who the five members of the Board of Elections will be, and Gov. Roy Cooper’s Office has not returned three emails seeking comment about it. The State Board was not immediately available for comment.

A three-judge Superior Court panel ruled the structure of the State Board 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 Monday. Rep. David Lewis (R-Harnett) has said several times over the past two weeks that lawmakers are negotiating with the Governor’s office to come up with a new State Board structure, but that has not been confirmed by Cooper’s office.

The nine-member current board is made up of four Republicans, four Democrats and an unaffiliated member. Eight members were appointed by Cooper from two lists of six individuals from the state Republican and Democratic Party chairs. That Board then appointed its ninth member.

The previous structure, which will be law again Monday, allows for the Governor to appoint five members from two lists of five individuals nominated by the state Republican and Democratic Party chairs, so long as he does not appoint more than three individuals registered with the same political party.

Each of those five members are to serve four-year terms, with no member serving more than two consecutive terms. That State Board is also different from the unconstitutional one because it is not charged with enforcing the state’s ethics laws.

North Carolina Chief Deputy Attorney General Alexander McC. Peters signed a letter Thursday confirming that the Superior Court panel’s order ruling the current structure of the State Board unconstitutional meant that it would revert Monday to the prior five-member structure, which was in existence until late 2016.

At issue all along also has been the legislature holding former Republican Gov. Pat McCrory’s appointment of State Board Executive Director Kim Westbrook Strach. Per the prior law, the appointed five-member State Board would appoint its Executive Director.

County boards of elections will also revert to three members (not more than two from the same political party) appointed by the State Board. In the unconstitutional structure, county boards are made up of four members evenly split between the political parties.

Lewis apparently disagrees that the prior law would kick in upon the unconstitutional law expiring.

“The old elections board is gone,” he tweeted. “It cannot be resurrected via a dubious letter. Any attempt to do so would create chaos, is logistically impossible, and would throw election certification/investigations into jeopardy. And we’d all be in court. Again.”

Read the DOJ’s opinion letter about State Board below.

Reconstituting State Board of Elections by NC Policy Watch on Scribd

Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

New voter ID bill moving fast through legislature

Lawmakers are expected to vote today on a voter ID bill that was released less than 24 hours ago.

The Senate select committee on elections was the first Tuesday to see Senate Bill 824, a measure to implement a voter ID constitutional amendment before the 2019 May primaries. A House draft version of the bill was released last week, but there were some changes made to the new proposed bill.

Similar to the draft House version, acceptable forms of ID in SB 824 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 and a drivers license or photo ID issued by another state if the voter’s registration was within 90 days of the election.

Student IDs issued by the University of North Carolina or private school systems or the community colleges could be considered acceptable if schools agree to issue those IDs per per requirements from the legislature, including making sure they contain photos and giving ID cards to students only after confirming their identity (social security number, citizenship status and birth date). There are also security measures the schools have to follow with regard to the equipment that produces student IDs.

The initial House draft voter ID bill did not include private and community college student IDs in its list of acceptable photo IDs.

Another change was made to the age that people can use an expired ID. The following photo IDs can be used to voter per SB 824 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 65 years old, as long as the ID was unexpired on their 65th birthday.

The bill provides three exceptions to the photo ID requirement: religious objections, reasonable impediments and natural disasters. Each would provide for voters to cast a provisional ballot, although the law does not define what constitutes a “reasonable impediment.”

Sen. Terry Van Duyn (D-Buncombe)

There were only five voting Senators present at the committee meeting Tuesday — they were all Republican members except for Sen. Terry Van Duyn (D-Buncombe).

Van Duyn had a number of questions for Sen. Ralph Hise (R-Mitchell), who chaired the meeting, but legislative staff answered most of them. She took issue with the “aggressive” schedule put forth in SB824 and expressed concern about how the public would be notified before the next election in six months.

She brought up remarks from the prior day’s legislative meeting that State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement Executive Director Kim Strach told them that with three years to educate the public, over 1,000 people were denied a ballot on Election Day.

“I realize that we have a constitutional amendment, but we’re in the process of writing the legislation to implement it — we’ve already demonstrated that even with three years, it was a tough job to do, and now we’re going to do it instantaneously?” Van Duyn asked. “That seems a little unreasonable.”

Hise later used what Van Duyn said to claim they weren’t starting from scratch on voter ID implementation and had “already done an information campaign three years to the voters before we begin.”

She quipped, “Right, implementation that was found to be unconstitutional, I just want to point out.”

Hise became agitated and said they “very much disagreed” about that ruling.

Van Duyn continued to ask several questions and eventually voted “no” on giving SB824 a favorable report. The rest of the four Republicans voted to pass it on to the Senate rules committee, which meets today at 2 p.m. in room 1128 at the Legislative Building (which now has an audio stream).

The Republicans in the Tuesday meeting did not engage in any discussion or ask questions about the bill before voting to move it on.

Van Duyn, after the meeting, acknowledged that the Senate bill was better than the House draft but said she still had a lot of concerns, including the timeline for implementation, the reasonable impediment provision and the use of expiration dates (which she thinks are unnecessary for proving identity).

“They’re rushing it,” she said. “They’re rushing the bill and they’re rushing implementing it.”

The Senate reconvenes on the floor today at 9:30 a.m., thought they will likely break unit 4 p.m. or later. The House reconvenes at 10:30 a.m.

Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

NC congressional Democrats ask McConnell to cancel Farr votes

Democratic members of North Carolina’s congressional delegation sent a letter this week to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell urging the cancellation of all votes on the judicial nomination of prominent GOP attorney Thomas Farr.

President Donald Trump nominated Farr, who has ties to white supremacist Jesse Helms, to a U.S. District Court seat for the Eastern District of North Carolina. It is a lifetime appointment if he is confirmed.

The letter to McConnell was signed by U.S. Representatives David E. Price (NC-04), G. K. Butterfield (NC-01), and Alma Adams (NC-12). It states their concern for Farr’s record of voter suppression and points out the widespread opposition to his nomination.

“Mr. Farr’s confirmation will threaten the participation of African-Americans and other vulnerable populations in our political process,” the letter states.

Trump nominated Farr in July 2017 and then re-nominated him in January. The judicial vacancy he could fill is the longest running one across the nation at over 11 years.

Civil rights leaders have been outspoken in their opposition to Farr’s confirmation, particularly to the Eastern District of North Carolina, which houses almost half of the state’s Black population, but has never had a Black federal judge there in the District Court’s 145-year history.

Price, Butterfield and Adams want the Senate to allow Farr’s nomination to expire.

“Farr has a decades-long record of defending voter suppression tactics in North Carolina, including voter intimidation, discriminatory election changes, and racial gerrymandering,” a news release states. “In 1992, as the lawyer for former Senator Jesse Helms’ re-election campaign, he defended the campaign against U.S. Department of Justice complaints of voter intimidation after the campaign sent post cards to 100,000 black voters saying they were ineligible to vote and may be arrested for voting.”

If the Senate does proceed to a vote, Republicans only need one defector to defeat Farr’s nomination. 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.

Read the full letter to McConnell below.

18.26.11 Letter to Leader McConnell on Farr Nomination by NC Policy Watch on Scribd

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: