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NC AG Roy Cooper questions Pat McCrory on voting lawsuit; governor’s office fires back

Voting Rights Holder
Manuel Balce Ceneta - AP
Attorney General Eric Holder speaks during a news conference at the Justice Department in Washington, Monday, Sept. 30, 2013, announcing a new action to protect voting rights.

More Information

  • McCrory: Justice Department suit is 'without merit'
  • Voter ID suit greeted with praise, trepidation
  • Opinion: Feds right take on N.C. voter suppression
  • What the voting law does

    The state’s new election law changes when people can vote and how they can vote. It also changes campaign financing and disclosure laws. Here are some of the major provisions and when they begin.

    Starting Oct. 1

    Lobbyists cannot pass along any contribution to a candidate. Current law only prohibits the delivering of “bundled” contributions, that is, donations from multiple people or clients.

    Starting with the 2014 elections

    •  The early voting period will be one week shorter. County election boards, however, are required to provide the same number of hours for early voting, so expect longer hours and more voting sites.

    • You’ll no longer be able to vote a straight ticket, and candidates will appear on the ballot in alphabetical order by party – beginning with the party whose nominee for governor received the most votes in the most recent election.

    • You’ll no longer be able to register and vote on the same day.

    • You’ll no longer have your vote count if you vote at a precinct that isn’t yours. In the past, such votes would be counted as provisional ballots.

    • There will be more people watching. Currently the chairs of county political parties can designate two observers at each precinct or voting place. The law allows them to name 10 additional at-large observers who can go anywhere in a county.

    • Judicial elections for state Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals will no longer be funded by the public financing system started in 2002 as an effort to prevent judges from conflicts of interest with campaign donors. The money came from voluntary tax checkoffs and a $50 annual surcharge on fees attorneys paid to the state bar.

    • When you vote in the primary and general elections between May 1, 2014, and Jan. 1, 2016, you’ll be told that a photo ID will be needed in 2016 and asked whether you have one of the forms of identification accepted. If you say you don’t, you’ll be asked to sign an acknowledgment of the photo ID requirement and be given information on how to get one. The list of names will be a public record.

    • Candidates will no longer have to stand by their ads. The law repeals a 1999 law that requires political candidates, parties or political action committees to identify themselves on the air as the sponsors of an ad.

    Starting with the 2016 elections

    • You’ll have to show one of eight authorized photo IDs: an N.C. driver’s license that has not expired, a special ID card for non-drivers, a driver’s license issued by another state but only within 90 days of the voter’s registration, a U.S. passport, a military ID card, a veteran’s ID card issued by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, a tribal enrollment card issued by the federal government, or a tribal ID card recognized by the state. Not included: student IDs.

    If you don’t have a valid ID, you’ll be allowed to cast a provisional ballot. But to have it count you must go to the elections board within six days (nine in presidential elections) and show a valid ID.

    • North Carolina pays for two primary elections. If South Carolina holds its presidential primary before March 15, North Carolina would hold its presidential primary the next Tuesday. The primary for state and local candidates would continue to take place in May.

    Campaign finance changes

    • Ads and mailers by outside groups or parties will no longer have to list their five largest donors over the previous six months.

    • Groups will be allowed to spend unlimited amounts of money during summer months – after the May primary through Sept. 6 – without disclosing the source or amount. They would have to disclose money spent only after Sept. 7 and only in even-numbered years.

    • Raises the maximum contribution limit from $4,000 to $5,000 starting with contributions made on or after Jan. 1, 2014. Also ties future limits to the Consumer Price Index, raising it in odd-numbered years beginning in 2015.



RALEIGH Attorney General Roy Cooper said Tuesday that it is an “unnecessary expense” for Gov. Pat McCrory to hire an outside attorney to represent North Carolina against the Obama administration’s lawsuit challenging the state’s new voting law.

“Our office continues to have the primary responsibility to defend the state,” Cooper told reporters. “Our staff will continue to do that.”

The Democrat’s remarks sparked a political blame game about how the state is defending the lawsuit – one with implications for 2016, when Cooper is considering challenging the Republican governor.

Responding to Cooper’s remarks, Bob Stephens, McCrory’s chief legal counsel, said the cost “falls squarely at the feet of the attorney general.”

Stephens questioned Cooper’s ability to defend the state and recommended hiring an outside attorney after Cooper made critical comments about the voting bill earlier this year.

“I was concerned then and I’m concerned today that the comments that he has made (against) this legislation has compromised his ability to represent the state of North Carolina,” Stephens told reporters in a hastily scheduled briefing hours after Cooper’s remarks. Stephens compared it to a defendant’s attorney standing on a street corner and announcing “you were guilty.”

Cooper had asked the governor not to sign the voting bill, calling it “regressive,” and said that requiring voters to show photo identification at the polls is “unnecessary, expensive and burdensome.” His comments were cited in the U.S. Justice Department’s lawsuit filed Monday.

‘Part of my duties’

Cooper said he has a responsibility to defend his client, regardless of whether he agrees with the law. “There have been a number of laws that I have disagreed with personally that our staff has defended in court successfully,” he said. “I consider it part of my duties as attorney general to weigh in on important public policy issues. But under the law it is our duty to defend the state when it is sued. We will continue to do that.”

McCrory hired Karl “Butch” Bowers Jr., a South Carolina lawyer with strong GOP ties to defend the state against federal lawsuit, which claims the voting law – including the much-debated voter ID provision – will intentionally discriminate against minorities. It is one of four lawsuits against the law, which McCrory signed in August.

Bowers, who recently left the Womble Carlye law firm in Columbia, S.C., to start his own practice, will make $360 an hour. He is a member of the Republican National Lawyers Association and represented South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley on ethics charges. He also served as a special counsel on election law in the U.S. Justice Department under President George W. Bush.

Stephens said he is not concerned about Bowers’ partisan record or potential conflicts with his other clients, saying he was vetted before being hired. He also said the state is getting a reduced rate for Bowers’ time.

“These lawsuits are incredibly important to the people of North Carolina,” Stephens said. “We are going to win. I’m confident we are going to win. I don’t want us to risk not winning because we don’t have the right legal team.”

Another outside attorney

Republican legislative leaders also hired their own outside attorney to represent their interests, Tom Farr with Ogletree Deakins in Raleigh. A new state law gives them standing to intervene in lawsuits against the state.

A spokesman for House Speaker Thom Tillis could not immediately provide the terms of Farr’s contract. Farr is also defending the Republican legislature in the redistricting lawsuit.

Stephens declined to discuss the merits of the latest lawsuit, but he said the state would oppose any effort to stay its implementation while the case moves through the courts.

Frank: 919-829-4698
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