North Carolina AG Refuses to Help Defend Voter ID Law

by | August 3, 2016

By Craig Jarvis and Anne Blythe

North Carolina's attorney general won't represent the state in appealing last week's court ruling that overturned a voter ID mandate and other voting restrictions.

Attorney General Roy Cooper said Tuesday the state had tried its best to defend against the lawsuit but lost. Outside counsel for the governor and legislative leaders who are already involved in the case can handle any appeals, Cooper said, although he pointed out that would cost additional money and confuse voters.

North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory quickly called a news conference to denounce Cooper, the Democrat who is challenging him in the November election, for refusing to defend the state against this and other politically charged lawsuits. Both candidates went on the attack as their campaigns picked up steam approaching the final three months before Election Day.

"We're very disappointed to hear that again his office is not willing to do his job," McCrory said. "In fact, I question whether he should even accept a paycheck from the state of North Carolina any more because he continues to not do his job, as his oath of office requires him to do."

Cooper spoke to reporters earlier Tuesday and said there was a broader lesson for the Republican-controlled governor's office and General Assembly.

"The courts keep striking down these laws passed by the legislature and signed by the governor," Cooper said. "When are they going to learn that you just can't run roughshod over the Constitution? That you have to pass laws that are within the framework of the state and federal constitutions? We need to start doing that in North Carolina."

Cooper said he didn't think an appeal would change the outcome of the ruling by the three-judge panel.

"I think this is what we're going to have," Cooper said following a meeting of the Council of State. "The Board of Elections needs to work on expanding the early voting hours, making sure that same-day registration is re-instituted, and obviously the voter ID portion would not be allowed anymore."

Cooper made it clear he agrees with the federal court's reasoning.

"The bottom line is people will have more opportunities to register and vote, which was the origin of the laws that were passed in the first place _ the ones that, it looks like now, were illegally overturned by the governor and the General Assembly."

McCrory said the ruling would be appealed, and that the parties involved were deciding whether to go to the full 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals or directly to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The governor defended the 2013 elections law, which also shaved a week off of early voting while retaining the same number of hours, prohibited same-day registration and out-of-precinct voting, and eliminated pre-registration for 16- and 17-year-olds.

McCrory criticized the federal three-judge panel as partisan, and said the election law worked well in the primary this year. He insisted the motive behind the law was preventing voter fraud, not to make it more difficult for minorities to vote.

"To assume there's not the potential for people abusing the ballot box when there's so much at stake and so much money I think is being naive," McCrory said of the upcoming general election.

In the ruling released Friday, the appellate panel noted the timing of the 2013 election law overhaul, which came a month after the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated a key provision of the Voting Rights Act that had required many Southern states, including North Carolina, to get federal approval before making changes to such laws.

During the weeks between the Supreme Court's decision and the adoption of the election law bill, which grew to a 49-page "omnibus bill" from a previous 14-page proposal, North Carolina legislators asked for a variety of voting data and analysis.

The version of the bill prepared before the Supreme Court decision "provided that all government-issued IDs, even many that had been expired, would satisfy the requirement as alternatives to DMV-issue photo IDs," the appellate judges stated.

Afterward, the ruling states, "the legislature amended the bill to exclude many of the alternative photo IDs used by blacks. As amended, the bill retained only the kinds of IDs that white North Carolinians were more likely to possess."

Additionally, the legislature requested racial data on early voting, same-day registration and provisional voting and curbed those practices knowing they were disproportionately used by blacks, the ruling stated.

The judges also noted that legislators showed no evidence of voter fraud at the polls, even though much of the reasoning for the identification provision was pegged to the possibility that people were fraudulently casting ballots.

"On the one hand, the state has failed to identify even a single individual who has ever been charged with committing in-person voter fraud in North Carolina," the ruling states. "On the other, the General Assembly did have evidence of alleged cases of mail-in absentee voter fraud. Notably, the legislature also had evidence the absentee voting was not disproportionately used by African Americans; indeed, whites disproportionately used absentee voting. The General Assembly then exempted absentee voting from the photo ID requirement."

(c)2016 The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.)