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Bob Hall

Democracy NC Executive Director Bob Hall

Be sure to check out the op-ed authored by Democracy North Carolina’s Bob Hall in the Winston-Salem Journal this morning about one of the less-well-publicized (but most cynical and manipulative) provisions buried in the state’s infamous “monster voting law.”

As Hall explains, the decision to do away with straight-ticket voting was clearly the result of one thing: the determination by Republican officials that it would reduce Democratic votes:

In 2012, a solid majority – 56 percent – of North Carolina voters marked one box on their ballots to indicate their choices in more than a dozen different races, from governor to county commissioner. It’s called straight-ticket voting and in 2012, it involved 1.4 million ballots for Democratic candidates and 1.1 million for Republicans. African Americans were about 60 percent more likely than whites to use this voting method.

In an ideal world, our schools, TV stations and other media would teach people about civics and citizenship, the importance of voting, the candidates and offices on the ballot, and how to determine who’s a goat, not just a donkey or elephant. Instead, voting is discounted and election contests are covered like a horse race – who’s ahead in the polls and who’s got the most money behind them.

Given that reality, the straight-ticket option gives voters a handy way to participate in many contests with a single mark for a party’s slate of candidates. That’s especially helpful with North Carolina’s notoriously long ballot, which extends to partisan races for clerk of court, even coroner. Straight-ticket voting allows voters to efficiently, effectively show support for candidates of the party that best shares their values. It makes the voting process less intimidating, more accessible and it reduces the waiting time for everybody.

Why get rid of it? Because Republican leaders decided it hurts their chances to win more elections. The change has nothing to do with preventing fraud or improving integrity; it’s all about analyzing the voting behavior of supporters and opponents for a party’s self-serving gain. Read More

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Voting rightsThanks to the opinion editors of the Greenville Daily Reflector this morning for republishing an excellent Charlotte Observer editorial that may have gotten lost in the shuffle for a lot of folks when it ran originally over the Fourth of July weekend. The essay deserves to be reprinted repeatedly and, as they say down on Jones Street, “spread upon the record.”

This is what happens when politics and ideology overrule common sense. In their zeal to “reform” the voting system in North Carolina, Republican lawmakers pushed through a change that has created confusion, more work and wasted money.

That change was to end preregistration of teens so once they reached voting age, they would automatically be registered to vote. And they could do so at state driver’s license offices which would make it a one-stop convenience for newly licensed young drivers.

Not surprisingly, it was an effective voter registration move. More than 150,000 young people preregistered from the time the program went into effect in 2010 to September 2013. By the way, the policy was adopted in 2009 with bipartisan legislative support.

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The voting and good government experts at Democracy North Carolina have taken a look at the impact of the state’s new “Monster Voting Law” on the May primary election. Here is their initial take:

“Data Highlight: New Voting Law, Little Information, Less Confidence

Volunteers with Democracy North Carolina and other groups conducted a large Exit Survey at the polls in 34 counties during the May primary. An analysis of the 7,000 surveys seems to undermine NC House Speaker Thom Tillis’ justification for passing the Monster Law; he said it was needed to “restore confidence” in elections, but it’s causing just the opposite reaction.

See Rob Christensen’s story in today’s Raleigh News & Observer.

Dr. Martha Kropf, professor of political science at UNC-Charlotte, designed the questions, analyzed the data and produced a report. She is also president of the NC Political Science Association this year. Her report is pretty technical; here are some of the key findings, with rounded numbers:

** 76% of the voters surveyed said the information they were given at the polls about the photo ID was “clear and understandable,” but 46% could not tell us “what is the first election when voters will be required to show an acceptable photo ID at the polls.” This indicates to us that the information they received was simplistic and essentially useless.

** 19% or nearly 1 in 5 said they were not even asked about having an acceptable ID, a chief purpose of the roll-out education.

** The changes to the election law are not making most people feel more confident about the election process; and there are strong differences between how African-American and white voters view the changes.

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vote2The groups and individuals challenging North Carolina’s recent voting law changes filed papers late yesterday in federal court in Winston-Salem asking that implementation of those changes be suspended until at least after the November mid-term elections.

“North Carolinians should be able to vote in the November election without having to navigate the barriers imposed by this discriminatory law,” said Chris Brook, legal director of the ACLU of North Carolina and one of the attorneys for the challengers in League of Women Voters of North Carolina et al. v. North Carolina.

Those challengers contend that changes eliminating a week of early voting, ending same-day registration, and prohibiting out-of-precinct voting unduly burden the right to vote and discriminate against African-American voters, in violation of the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection clause and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

“Voters are at real risk of being blocked from participating in the pivotal midterm election,” Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, said in a statement. “If this law is subsequently found unconstitutional, as we fully expect it will be, North Carolinians who were denied the vote will never get a do-over.”

The parties’ motion follows a ruling late last week by U.S. District Judge Thomas Schroeder requiring state lawmakers to disclose communications about the voting changes between themselves and others during the time such changes were being discussed and implemented.

Read the parties’ motion requesting a preliminary injunction here.

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In an order released late today in the voting rights cases pending in federal court in Winston-Salem, U.S. District Judge Thomas D. Schroeder upheld an earlier magistrate’s ruling which rejected state lawmakers’ efforts to withhold emails relating to the passage of the voting law changes last session under a claim of absolute legislative privilege.

In that prior ruling, Magistrate Judge Joi Elizabeth Peake adopted a flexible approach to the disclosure of emails and other communications created during the time that lawmakers were considering the voting law changes ultimately enacted last session. Peake found that at least some of the communications sought were not absolutely protected — communications with constituents or other third-parties, for example – and should be produced. The judge also held that other documents might likewise have to be disclosed if the need for them in the voting rights context outweighed any intrusion on the legislative process.

That’s an approach that courts elsewhere have adopted — in Florida, Texas, and Wisconsin, for example — weighing the need of legislators to be free from harassing questions about their decision-making processes with the needs of citizens suspicious of those lawmakers’ motives – and in the end, ordering the disclosure of at least some information.

“This is a place where courts have rarely spoken, but clearly the concern that legislative officials might not be acting with the best interests of their public in mind has caused this issue to arise more frequently,” said Justin Levitt, a voting law expert and professor at Loyola Law School.

Attorneys for the parties challenging the voting law changes called today’s ruling a victory for the integrity of elections and the transparency of the legislative process.

“This ruling means lawmakers will no longer be allowed to hide behind a veil of secrecy,” Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, said in a statement. “If politicians are going to tamper with people’s fundamental right to vote, we deserve to know why.”