Commentary, Defending Democracy

Former GOP Supreme Court Justice: NC should reject voter ID requirement

Bob Orr

Bob Orr, a former state Supreme Court justice and one-time candidate for the Republican nomination for governor penned an important op-ed in the Charlotte Observer yesterday entitled “I’ve changed my mind on voter ID.” In it, Orr cites the recent excellent biography of President Ulysses Grant by historian Ron Chernow that describes Grant’s tireless and ultimately frustrated efforts to rein in the voter suppression efforts of the KKK and other racist white southerners in the aftermath of the Civil War.

Having plowed through Chernow’s tome myself in recent months, I can confirm that it is an important read for those who wish to gain a better understanding of some critical aspects of our nation’s history, including the attitudes of many modern Americans — particularly Americans of color — as they confront modern voting law changes that echo the actions Grant combated.

As Orr notes in conclusion:

“What does any of this have to do with voter ID? The latter part of Grant’s career as president overlapped with Reconstruction of the South, the new freedom of the slaves and the granting of rights to them, particularly the right to vote. For those of us who grew up in the South and are of a certain generation, the history books told us that Reconstruction was all about carpetbaggers from the North, traitorous Southerners (or ‘Scalawags’) and freed blacks all taking advantage of those poor white home folks below the Mason-Dixon line. Nobody told us of the extreme violence and intimidation aimed at those newly freed black slaves.

Chernow points out that while ex-Confederates were resentful over losing the war and their ‘property’ in the form of slaves, the real stick in their craw was that blacks now had the right to vote. That voting power enabled blacks to hold office and exercise their electoral power. The book traces the horror and violence that descended upon blacks in the South attempting to participate in the most basic of democratic institutions – the right to vote. In 1868, more than 2,000 blacks were killed in Georgia alone in efforts to suppress voting.

Over time, despite federal efforts against the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacists, the burning, lynching and terror resulted in a significantly reduced willingness by blacks to try to vote. Fast forward to the beginning of the 20th century, and here in North Carolina and across the South, a new wave of repression took root. Jim Crow laws became the order of the day.

Not until the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 did the fruits of the 15th Amendment begin to seriously be fulfilled for black voters in the South. Is it any wonder then that our fellow citizens of African-American heritage are particularly sensitive when it comes to voting issues? Is it any wonder that they are genuinely concerned that a voter ID requirement is just one more in a long line of measures to limit their right to vote?

Maybe a photo voter ID isn’t all that bad, but I’m willing to say today after reading Chernow’s ‘Grant’: Let’s put this proposal on the shelf as simply the right thing to do.”

Commentary, Defending Democracy, News

Breaking: Republicans unveil last minute bill to limit early voting

Surprise! The destructive, last minute mischief and mayhem continue at the Legislative Building. The latest development: Republicans unveiled a new bill out of nowhere late last night to limit early voting in North Carolina. The proposal would come as a proposed amendment to an old bill from last year — what’s referred to in legislative parlance as a “proposed committee substitute” or “PCS.” Former legislative staffer and elections law expert Gerry Cohen summarized the measure in a series of tweets earlier this morning. Here are a few:

Policy Watch will provide further updates as the day goes on.

Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

Boswell releases emails amid ACLU lawsuit pressure

Rep. Beverly Boswell

The ACLU of North Carolina has forced a House Representative’s hand in a battle over public records.

Rep. Beverly Boswell (R-Beaufort) “decided to” release her unredacted emails after Kitty Hawk resident filed a lawsuit. She had initially refused to release anything, then later released documents concealing the identity of everyone her office communicated with.

The full release comes more than a year after one of her constituents, Craig Merrill, first asked for public records of phone and email correspondence between her office and the residents and businesses she represents in North Carolina House District 6, which includes parts of Beaufort, Dare, Hyde, and Washington counties.

The ACLU filed the public records lawsuit on behalf of Merrill in January.

“We are glad that Representative Boswell finally agreed to do the right thing and stop hiding who she was communicating with about the public’s business,” said Chris Brook, Legal Director of the ACLU of N.C. “North Carolinians deserve transparency from their elected officials – and the law requires it.”

In a letter addressed to Brook about the records release, the special deputy attorney general who represents Boswell, Olga Vysotskaya de Brito, said the lawmaker “made a decision to disclose the in-redacted set of documents” Merril requested.

“In our view, today’s production of documents resolved the pending controversy,” the letter states.

They also filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit. The motion essentially states the case is moot and should be dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

In a motion for summary judgment filed last month, the ACLU said that there was no legal justification for Boswell to conceal who she and her office were corresponding with on matters related to her work as a public official on issues including the Outer Banks plastic bag ban.

Many of the documents Boswell provided contain the following message: “Email correspondence to and from this address is subject to North Carolina Public Records Law and may be disclosed to third parties.”

“The public deserves to know how our representatives are conducting business on our behalf so that we can hold them accountable,” Merrill said. “I am glad my representative has finally agreed to follow the law, but it never should have taken more than a year and a lawsuit for her to do the right thing and be open about her work with a constituent.”

Brook said Wednesday that Boswell provided the unredacted records after they filed a motion for summary judgment arguing that Merrill was legally entitled to know who she was corresponding with on matters of public interest.

“Put another way, Representative Boswell only provided unredacted records after we made plain that we would continue pursuing the matter in court,” he said. “The ACLU-NC has not agreed to dismiss the lawsuit as it is not yet fully resolved. The state Public Records Act entitles individuals who substantially prevail in public records litigation to receive attorneys’ fees. We will be seeking fees to recover money spent litigating a case that we offered Representative Boswell every opportunity to resolve prior to filing a lawsuit.”

Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

Without judicial primaries, NC Democratic Party endorses for statewide races

From left: Anita Earls, John Arrowood, Wayne Goodwin, Allegra Collins and Toby Hampson

North Carolina Democrats have been forced to “take an extreme measure” this year by endorsing judicial candidates for statewide office.

A newly-created endorsement panel met at the Democratic Party convention over the weekend in response to Republican legislator’s eliminating judicial primary elections this year.

Party Chair Wayne Goodwin said they prefer to have voters choose Democratic judicial nominees rather than party officials. He testified last week at a federal trial over the elimination of judicial primaries about the endorsement panel, noting that there was only time to address statewide races — there are four — and not trial court races — there are more than 100.

“This was not by choice or by design,” he explained at a Tuesday press conference. “It was forced upon us by changes by a Republican legislature desperate to hold on to power and afraid to face the voters this fall.”

The Party endorsed well-known civil and voting rights attorney Anita Earls (she also founded the Southern Coalition for Social Justice) for a State Supreme Court seat and John Arrowood (current Court of Appeals judge), Allegra Collins (Raleigh attorney and Campbell University Law School professor) and Toby Hampson (Raleigh attorney) for Court of Appeals seats.

Goodwin said there was no other place in the country that had experienced so many changes to an independent judiciary as rapidly as North Carolina. The legislature in the past two years has made all judicial elections partisan, shrunk the Court of Appeals, cancelled a judicial primary election and dabbled in judicial redistricting.

“They rewrote the law to stack the deck in their favor, and that’s what they do,” Goodwin said.

He expressed concern over a particular measure that allows judicial candidates to change their party affiliation up to the last minute — there used to be a 90-day registration requirement. He said a Franklin County attorney who has publicly criticized Democrats and supported Donald Trump already announced his switch from a Republican to Democratic registration.

“This is not a hypothetical – it’s already happening, my friends,” Goodwin said. “There’s rumors of even more Republicans following suit. These games are unacceptable.”

Commentary, Defending Democracy

One of NC’s most experienced and respected election law experts blasts “cynical” GOP voter ID scheme

If you missed it this morning, be sure to check out veteran election law expert Gerry Cohen’s essay in Raleigh’s News & Observer in which he dissects the proposal from Republicans at the North Carolina General Assembly to alter the state constitution with a voter ID amendment. As Cohen makes clear, the proposal is rife with a host of serious problems.

This is from “The new voter photo ID bill is vague and leaves lots of questions”:

“The ballot question says, ‘Every person offering to vote in person shall present photo identification before voting in the manner prescribed by law’ This language appears to not allow exceptions for those without ID or those who have lost them, as the 2013 law did. Will it be a ‘hard ID’ like that struck down in federal court, or a ‘soft ID’ like the 2013 House version that allowed student ID, public assistance ID or employer ID? Will there be a tedious provisional ballot process?

The referendum voter won’t know the actual proposal. Senate staffer Brent Woodcox tweeted, ‘Very few would read the details of the bill to make their decision on the amendment. Unless it passes, there will be no need for implementing language.’ How cynical. Is the amendment just a blank check, as well as a sound bite to trap candidates? Is the actual reason to amend the constitution to end review on state constitutional grounds? Republicans control the legislature; the N.C. Supreme Court is now 4-3 Democratic and will remain Democratic next year.”

After reciting the arguments of proponents that ID requirements are no big deal and that one supposedly already needs an iD for all sorts of routine events of life, Cohen responds like this:

“A large segment of society, especially the poor, don’t fly and don’t have checking accounts. Research has shown that the poorer the voter, the younger the voter, or if the voter is black, the less likely there is an acceptable photo ID. Also, why are we writing into the constitution 2018 technology, disallowing other methods that may develop?

I’ve seen attacks that people without ID could easily get one. For many, this isn’t true. Those of us in politics are privileged to be in the top 95 percent of society. We often don’t see the struggle of citizens who are un-banked, poor, homeless, mentally ill, with no car, or living far away from DMV in rural areas. The lesser among us deserve respect and honor, not baseless fraud allegations or artificial and unnecessary barriers to voting. This bill will disenfranchise voters and is poorly thought through. No one is breaking into the voting booth.

Most voter fraud is in mail-in ballots, not touched by this bill. The other major fraud in 2016 was largely baseless post-election fraud accusations made by representatives of a campaign, organized by Virginia lawyers who duped volunteers into signing false allegations.

Over 400,000 persons have had licenses suspended in the last three years in North Carolina for failing to pay court fees (which have greatly increased). How would this affect voter ID?”

The bottom line: Cohen is right that the amendment would be a disaster and must be stopped.