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NC lawmakers try to quash subpoenas that seek details about voter ID law

RALEIGH North Carolina legislative leaders who led the crafting of the state’s new voter ID law have been very open about their support of the measure and other elections changes.

But voters and organizations challenging the wide-ranging amendments contend that those same lawmakers are being far too private about email and other correspondence they exchanged while transforming the state’s voting process.

Critics of the voting-law changes say that its Republican sponsors had information that the legislation would have a negative impact on African-Americans and other minorities.

In federal court filings this month, the NAACP, the League of Women Voters of North Carolina, the American Civil Liberties Union, the U.S. Justice Department and others who are suing the governor, state legislators and North Carolina election board members sought a court order for email and other correspondence.

Thirteen legislators, all Republicans, asked the court to quash subpoenas requiring them to produce any documents they created or received concerning the “rationale, purpose and implementation” of House Bill 589.

Sen. Phil Berger, leader of the state Senate, was among the group, as was Rep. Thom Tillis, the speaker of the House. Others include Sen. Bob Rucho and Rep. Ruth Samuelson of Mecklenburg County, Rep. Larry Pittman of Concord, and Rep. David Lewis, the Harnett County Republican who helped lead the 2011 redrawing of legislative and congressional districts being challenged in court.

In court documents filed this week, the Republican officials argue that they are protected by “legislative immunity” and should be “free from arrest or civil process for what they do in legislative proceedings.” The leaders also argue that legislative immunity frees legislators “not only from the consequences of litigation, it also frees them ‘from the burden of defending themselves.’ 

Meanwhile, the organizations and voters seeking the correspondence and other information from legislators stated in court documents that attempts to keep the details private seem contradictory to lawmakers’ assertions that the voter ID measure and other election-law changes were needed to further transparency and integrity in North Carolina.

H.B. 589, as the 49-page document is called in court filings, was adopted by the General Assembly in July and signed into law by Gov. Pat McCrory in August.

The changes were widely lauded by Republicans in North Carolina and elsewhere as necessary to prevent voter fraud, though few cases of fraud have been prosecuted.

What critics charge

Critics described the voting-law changes as attempts to suppress votes, particularly those of African-Americans and Hispanic voters who often support Democrats over Republicans.

Civil- and voting-rights organizations have filed suits in state and federal court seeking to have the new rules declared unconstitutional.

In December, a federal judge said a trial on the 2013 amendments would not take place until after the 2014 elections. But a hearing is set for this summer on whether the new measures will go into effect before the issues are settled in court.

Starting in 2016, voters will have to show one of eight state-authorized photo IDs to vote. Student IDs will not work.

Voters without a valid ID will be allowed to cast a provisional ballot, but, to have it count, they must go to the elections board within six days (nine in presidential elections) and show a valid ID.

Challenged provisions

Also being challenged are provisions that:

• Cut the early voting period by one week, though county election boards will be required to provide the same number of hours for early voting.

• Eliminate straight-ticket voting. 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.

• Do away with a provision that allowed people to register and vote on the same day.

• Discontinue a measure that had allowed voters who showed up at the wrong precinct to cast a vote with a provisional ballot.

Blythe: 919-836-4948; Twitter: @AnneBlythe1
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