Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

Cooper vetoes voter ID bill

Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed Republican lawmakers’ voter ID bill Friday.

Senate Bill 824 was passed after North Carolinians voted to pass a constitutional amendment requiring voters to have a photo ID to cast a ballot. Democrats tried to pause the process to let the State Board of Elections and Ethics investigation into absentee ballot fraud in the 9th congressional district play out, but Republicans plowed ahead.

Cooper said in a statement announcing his veto that requiring photo IDs for in-person voting is a solution in search of a problem.

“Instead, the real election problem is votes harvested illegally through absentee ballots, which this proposal fails to fix,” he said. “In addition, the proposed law puts up barriers to voting that will trap honest voters in confusion and discourage them with new rules, some of which haven’t even been written yet. Finally, the fundamental flaw in the bill is its sinister and cynical origins: It was designed to suppress the rights of minority, poor and elderly voters. The cost of disenfranchising those voters or any citizens is too high, and the risk of taking away the fundamental right to vote is too great, for this law to take effect.”

Cooper signed into law two other measures — a technical corrections bill and an inmate pharmacy purchasing bill.

He has until Dec. 22 to veto another bill that restructures the State Board and halts implementation of voter ID until September.

Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy

Editorial: Burr, Tillis failed state in partisan support for flawed judicial candidate

The Winston-Salem Journal takes Senators Richard Burr and Thom Tillis to task for their blind and partisan support of Thomas Farr to be a US district judge in North Carolina.

The editorial board explains in its latest editorial:

Thomas Farr (L) and Sen. Thom Tillis (R)

Thomas A. Farr was a woefully bad choice to be a federal district judge in North Carolina.

Thank goodness Sen. Tim Scott, a Republican from South Carolina, stood up for principle over blind party loyalty and announced that he would oppose Farr’s nomination. With all 49 Democrats in the Senate and Republican Sen. Jeff Flake also unwilling to vote for Farr, Scott’s opposition was all it took to sink the nomination.

Flake is opposing all of President Donald Trump’s judicial nominations until the Senate votes on a bill to protect special counsels, but he’s on record as saying he would have opposed Farr anyway. Principle is something that seems to be lacking among many Senate Republicans these days.

Where were North Carolina’s two senators, Richard Burr and Thom Tillis, when news emerged recently about a 1991 Justice Department memo written under President George H.W. Bush — a memo that raises serious concerns about Farr’s role in racially discriminatory tactics used in Jesse Helms’ campaigns for Senate from North Carolina? They were holding firm in their support of Farr, no matter what.

Civil rights groups and others were already opposing Farr’s nomination before the memo surfaced, because of his work helping to discourage minority voters. Republicans who controlled the N.C. General Assembly hired Farr and his law firm to defend the congressional boundaries they drew in 2011 — boundaries that were eventually struck down by a federal court as racial gerrymandering. Farr also defended the 2013 N.C. voter ID law that was found to target minority voters.

Supporters in the U.S. Senate said Farr should not be judged on the basis of positions he was hired to defend. Then the 1991 memo, suggesting that Farr, as the leading lawyer for Helms’ Senate bid in 1990, had a role in devising the campaign’s controversial “ballot security” voter-suppression efforts, raised serious questions about his fitness for a lifetime appointment.

Yet Farr’s home-state senators, Burr and Tillis, still supported his nomination, making it easier for their fellow Republicans to do the same. Rather than backing a highly questionable nominee, the senators should rise above pure partisanship and work to find a good nominee for the Eastern Judicial District, which includes 44 counties from Raleigh eastward.

That judgeship has the unwelcome distinction of having been empty for nearly 13 years — the longest-lasting judicial vacancy in U.S. history. The empty seat has caused a massive backlog of cases, especially civil cases. Farr first surfaced as a nominee under President George W. Bush in 2006. That nomination went nowhere, for good reason. During his two terms, President Barack Obama tried twice to fill the seat. He nominated two well-qualified African-American women, Jennifer May Parker and, later, Patricia Timmons-Goodson. Burr blocked both. Burr’s actions are especially troubling given that the Eastern District has never had an African-American judge even though more than a quarter of its residents are black.

Then, when Trump took office, Farr’s nomination resurfaced. Who knows? With Republican gains in the Senate, the nomination might resurface next year.

Rather than stubbornly backing a flawed nominee, Burr and Tillis should encourage Trump to nominate a worthy candidate for the seat. They should do the right thing.

Read more

Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

Elections, Ethics Chair asks for another extension to keep investigating 9th congressional district

Less than two days after a three-judge panel granted the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement an extension to preserve its structure and authority, Chairman Joshua Malcolm is asking for another one.

The Monday extension was granted to allow the current State Board to continue its investigation into the 9th congressional district absentee ballot fraud even after the court ruled its structure unconstitutional. It is supposed to last until noon Dec. 28 or until all the statewide elections are certified, whichever comes first, according to the order.

Lawmakers have since passed new legislation restructuring the State Board, but it won’t take effect until Jan. 31.

“I understand the nature of this correspondence to be out of the ordinary, and I appreciate the consideration of the Panel,” Malcolm wrote in the Wednesday letter to the court. “All parties to this matter have agreed that the board should remain in place pending the resolution of the investigation that has delayed certification in certain contests, including Congressional District 9.”

The letter goes on to give details about the legislative process passing House Bill 1029, which affects the structure of the State Board. Malcolm asks the court to extend the State Board’s structure and authority until the ballot fraud investigation is complete.

“Disputes and uncertainty about the board’s clear authority between December 28 and January 31 will substantially disrupt our efforts,” he wrote.

Malcolm cited the complexity of the ongoing investigation as the reason a transition between when the current extension expires and when the new legislation starts would work against the public’s interest and undermine ongoing activities.

In the version of the conference report, HB 1029, that both the House and Senate passed Wednesday, it contains a provision that would require a primary election if investigators found that there should be a new election in the 9th congressional district.

It was stripped from what the House Rules committee evaluated the night before, but added back in before a floor vote. Lawmakers had questions about certain aspects of the bill, particularly a provision that would extend the time the legislature gets for court-ordered redistricting and a provision that would make campaign finance investigations confidential, but no amendments could be made because of the conference report process.

The House passed HB 1029 with 81-18 votes and the Senate passed it with 34-3 votes — it had bipartisan support. It’s unclear, however, if Gov. Roy Cooper will support the bill or veto it.

He has allegedly been negotiating with lawmakers over the past couple weeks about the State Board but his office refuses to comment about that process.

The Governor’s spokesman, Ford Porter, did not respond to specific questions asking if Cooper had seen the new legislation, if he approved and if it indeed included provisions he negotiated for.

“North Carolinians deserve honest and fair elections, and the Governor is reviewing this legislation carefully,” Porter wrote in an email Wednesday.

Cooper has 10 days to veto the bill or sign it into law.

Read Malcolm’s full Wednesday letter to the three-judge panel below:

Correspondence 2018-12-12 by NC Policy Watch on Scribd

Defending Democracy, News, Uncategorized, Voting

NC NAACP to Gov. Cooper: Veto Voter ID implementation bill

The North Carolina NAACP is urging Governor Roy Cooper to veto Senate Bill 824: “Implementation of Voter ID Constitutional Amendment.”

Members of the civil rights group call the bill the product of “a rushed process by a lame-duck General Assembly that both has been found to be unconstitutionally-constituted by the federal courts and has been voted out of office by the people of North Carolina.”

In a letter sent to the Gov. Cooper Wednesday, NC NAACP President Rev. Dr. T. Anthony Spearman writes:

The rushed and unusual process through which this General Assembly passed SB 824 further demonstrates how little respect the General Assembly has for voters of color. In the two short weeks immediately following the Thanksgiving holiday, this lame-duck General Assembly shepherded a complex bill with the most serious ramifications through a cursory process with few opportunities for public comment and no public examination of the bill’s impact on voters of color and other vulnerable groups. The public was given little to no notice of changes in committee meeting times, and no notice of whether and when there would be opportunities to speak. This mimics the expedited process deployed to enact the ultimately invalidated HB 589 in 2013.

The leadership of the General Assembly contends it was forced to act quickly to pass photo voter ID legislation because of the voter ID constitutional amendment that was passed this past November. But the constitutionality of that amendment itself is an open question that remains pending before the North Carolina courts. Even if implementing legislation were required, a duly-elected General Assembly – one not elected under the cloud of unconstitutionally racially – gerrymandered maps and not sitting in a lame-duck session –will be seated in just a few weeks. And there is no timeline in the text of the Constitutional Amendment that required the hurried actions taken by this legislature resulting in this suspect bill.

Finally, no new justifications have been provided by this General Assembly to rationalize the imposition of the law’s infringement upon the right to vote. A photo ID requirement does nothing to address the state’s most pressing security issues.  It has nothing to do with improving the reliability of voting equipment, safeguards for voter data, protections against foreign interference, or safeguards against the types of irregularities currently under investigation in Bladen and Robeson County. Research consistently shows that fraudulent irregularities in voting are rare, and the types of irregularities that this photo identification could aid in preventing are even rarer—in this state and nationwide.  There is simply no reason, other than the General Assembly leadership’s own improper motivations, that this hastily-ratified bill should go any farther than it already has.

Read the NC NAACP’s full letter here.

Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

Senate Dems follow elections bill, investigation money ahead of vote

As the fate of the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement looms, so does the possibility of a do-over election in the 9th congressional district.

State Board investigators have been examining allegations of absentee ballot fraud in the 9th congressional district, and calls for a new election are mounting. What hasn’t been publicly discussed, though, is the price tag of such an outcome.

Senate Democratic staff released data Tuesday night which show that a special election would cost about $2.3 million. That projection is based on actual county expenditures from the 2014 and 2016 elections.

It’s not yet known if there will be a special election, but Republicans have rallied behind one, and even Mark Harris, the Republican candidate at the center of the fraud investigation, reportedly said he would be understanding of one.

The investigation, though, is still very much ongoing — so much so that a court granted an extension for the current State Board to continue on through noon Dec. 28, despite its structure being recently ruled unconstitutional.

In the meantime, Republican lawmakers are working on a measure to restructure the State Board via a conference report that cannot be amended or changed by anyone. The House and Senate are both expected to vote on that bill, House Bill 1029, today, without any information about the potential cost of changes.

Gov. Roy Cooper and Republican legislative leaders have been in a bitter power struggle and legal battle over the State Board since before Cooper even took office in 2016. Rep. David Lewis (R-Harnett) has claimed this new measure reflects some of the Governor’s wishes, but it’s not clear if he actually approves, which could lead to a veto and, ultimately, more costly litigation.

Still, Lewis has said the 9th congressional district investigation has created a sense of urgency, and so the associated legislation is being fast-tracked — fiscal note or no fiscal note.

The Senate Rules committee is set to take up HB 1029 at 11 a.m., and the below table might provide helpful context about prior State Board budgets as they review the measure before a vote. The information also was released by Senate Democratic staff.

Budget history for the State Board of Elections/Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement

Total amount appropriated by Fiscal Year to the State Board of Elections from 2010 through 2018. *Note: FY 2018-19 is the first year that the Ethics Commission and Lobbying Compliance division budgets are shown within the State Board of Elections.
Fiscal YearRequirementsReceiptsNet Appropriation
FY 2009-1010,644,2595,786,5104,857,749
FY 2010-117,139,735781,5856,358,150
FY 2011-126,883,7511,486,0415,397,710
FY 2012-135,682,444468,9995,213,445
FY 2013-146,432,429104,5356,327,894
FY 2014-157,807,7901,004,5356,803,255
FY 2015-167,993,7101,233,1966,760,514
FY 2016-177,544,985852,1646,692,821
FY 2017-187,127,847475,2116,652,636
FY 2018-19*9,524,459*1,028,651*8,495,808*