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Kansas Sec. of State Kris Kobach

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach

(Cross-posted from Facing South, the blog of the Institute for Southern Studies)

By Chris Kromm

This week, officials at the North Carolina State Board of Elections announced they had discovered possible evidence of widespread voter fraud in the battleground state.

By cross-checking North Carolina voter rolls with those in 28 other states, leaders of the board told state lawmakers they had found 35,750 records of people who voted in North Carolina and whose first name, last name and date of birth matched people who had voted in other states. More surprisingly, it also revealed 765 North Carolina voters in 2012 whose last four Social Security digits also matched those of people who voted in other states that year.

The announcement fueled news headlines and outrage from North Carolina politicians, including legislators on an elections oversight committee who said the findings affirmed the need for voting restrictions passed by the General Assembly in 2013. House Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate Leader Phil Berger issued a joint statement hailing the “newly discovered, alarming evidence of voter error, fraud.”

State Republican Party Chairman Claude Pope said the report showed fraud “represents a significant threat” to elections and applauded his party’s efforts “to protect the integrity of the ballot box” — although measures such as voter ID, which addresses voter impersonation, would have no effect on voting in multiple states.

What the North Carolina election officials didn’t discuss is who had conducted the checks, and when or why the decision had been made to undertake them. They also didn’t mention the results of similar checks done in other states, which have led to only a handful of cases even being considered for prosecution. Read More

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Be sure to check out this morning’s edition of Chris Fitzsimon’s “Monday numbers” column today in which he examines the politically-motivated rush to judgment by conservative lawmakers on the matter of recent “voter fraud” allegations. And in case you missed it, the Charlotte Observer had a good editorial on the subject over the weekend.

As both posts note, the breathless claims of Phil Berger and Thom Tillis are as off-base as the monster voter suppression law the two rammed through last year. This is from the editorial:

“’We have to ensure this is what happened, and it wasn’t an error on someone’s part,’” [State Board of Election Director Kim] Strach said.

She’s right – and after that, the state needs to determine when the possible fraud occurred and how it might be stopped. Sounds obvious, but that’s not how Republicans approached the issue of voter fraud Read More

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Voter-ID-signToday’s Winston-Salem Journal makes clear one again what advocates for open government have been saying for a long time: state lawmakers ought to be allowed behind absurd claims of privacy and immunity when it comes to the records of their communications as they went about the business of passing the nation’s most restrictive voting law. As the new editorial aptly notes:

“It’s bad enough that our politicians choose their own voters through their redistricting monopoly, but last year the General Assembly passed a so-called ‘voter identification’ bill that will clearly suppress who among us even gets to vote. Read More

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The court handling the challenges to the voting law changes enacted by the General Assembly last session ruled today that the doctrine of legislative immunity did not give legislators absolute protection from having to disclose some emails and other documents generated while those changes were being considered.

“North Carolinians have a right to know what motivated their lawmakers to make it harder for them to vote,” said Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project. “Legislators should not be shrouding their intentions in secrecy. The people deserve better.”

In League of Women Voters of North Carolina et al. v. North Carolina, Magistrate Judge Joi Elizabeth Peake wrote:

The Court concludes that while the judicially-created doctrine of “legislative immunity” provides individual legislators with absolute immunity from liability for their legislative acts, that immunity does not preclude all discovery in the context of this case; instead, claims of legislative immunity or privilege in the discovery context must be evaluated under a flexible approach that considers the need for the information in the context of the particular suit presented, while still protecting legislative sovereignty and minimizing any direct intrusion into the legislative process.

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The Court must consider the context of this suit under the Voting Rights Act in making a particularized determination of the extent of any privilege, balancing the need for obtaining the information with the impact on legislative sovereignty and the need to “insure that legislators are not distracted from or hindered in the performance of their legislative tasks.”  In undertaking this inquiry, the Court notes that many of the documents requested by the subpoenas and discovery requests involve communications with outside parties or are other documents that are considered public records under state law. Requiring production of those documents is not unduly burdensome or invasive of the legislative process. However, other categories of documents may require further scrutiny in balancing the competing interests. In addition, the protections of the attorney-client privilege and work product doctrine can also be claimed by the individual legislators, and those issues have not been addressed in detail as to the specific requests presented.

“Today’s ruling is good news for every North Carolinian who values integrity and transparency in our elections,” Chris Brook, legal director for the ACLU of North Carolina, added. “The public has a right to know how and why officials drafted legislation making it harder for North Carolinians to vote, and with today’s ruling, we can hopefully get to the bottom of those questions.”

Read more here about this chapter of the litigation pending in federal court in Winston-Salem.

Read the court’s full order here.

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PlaceMattersBTCThis blog post is part of a series called Place Matters. The other posts can be accessed here, here, and here.

The Voting Rights Act subjected 40 percent of North Carolina’s counties to the mandatory “pre-clearance” regulations of Section 5, requiring approval of the Department of Justice or the courts before electoral changes that might weaken the voting power of African American. The evisceration of this landmark legislation by the 2013 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Shelby County v. Holder—and subsequent the omission of North Carolina from the covered jurisdictions in newly introduced voting rights legislation—leaves racially excluded communities particularly vulnerable to political isolation and electoral powerlessness.

The UNC Center for Civil Rights’ State of Exclusion report looked at majority-minority North Carolina communities of color (over 75 percent) and measured a variety of factors impacting the quality of life for residents of those communities. The data with regard to political representation was telling, and emphasizes the need for expanding, rather than eliminating, effective policies measures to address the continuing legacy of discrimination in elections. Read More