Damning New Report Details Partisan and Sometimes Racially Charged Motivations of those Administering North Carolina’s Elections – From Statewide Officials to County Election Board Members
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, in a letter sent to North Carolina State Board of Elections Chairman A. Grant Whitney, Jr. (included below), Allied Progress called on the state’s top election officials to root out those motivated by partisanship and/or racial animus in the administration of state elections. The request follows a months-long investigation into North Carolina’s election administration resulting in the publication today of a new report titled, “Something’s Rotten: North Carolina’s Shameful Record of Voter Suppression and the Partisan and Sometimes Racially Charged Motivations of Those Administering Its Elections.”
The report details recent attempts by statewide elected officials, state legislators, and county election boards to make voter registration and voting more difficult in North Carolina through efforts that disproportionately affect minority, senior citizen, disabled, and low-income voters. It also reveals the partisan political motivations behind these efforts and the sometimes racially charged and conspiratorial machinations of local officials entrusted with running impartial and unbiased elections in the Tar Heel State.
“The State Board of Elections must move swiftly to root out partisanship and racial animus in the administration of North Carolina’s elections – both at the county election board-level and in his own office. Regardless of how we vote, we all want elections that are free from political tampering,” said Allied Progress Executive Director Karl Frisch. He continued, “The partisan efforts by some North Carolina politicians to reduce the participation of minority, senior citizen, disabled, and low-income voters in our democratic process should worry us all. This report shows in chilling detail how so many of those responsible for administering North Carolina’s elections are motivated by partisanship and in too many cases, make disturbing racially charged and conspiratorial comments on social media.”
- North Carolina’s Strict Voter ID Law Was Recently Struck Down – Having Been Called Out for its Racial and Partisan Motivations. Pat McCrory signed the law, H.B. 589, in 2013, yet this past July, a federal appeals court struck it down, writing that its provisions “target African Americans with almost surgical precision,” imposing “cures for problems that did not exist.” The law had required potential voters to present photo ID, eliminated same-day registration, shortened the early voting period, eliminated out-of-precinct voting, and ended the ability for 16- and 17-year-old North Carolinians to pre-register. The stated reason for the legislation was to eliminate voter fraud, which GOP legislators said was widespread in the state, despite multiple studies showing voter fraud was largely nonexistent – including one that showed among 21 million votes cast, only a single instance of voter impersonation was found.
- North Carolina Republicans Have Repeatedly Attacked Access to the Ballot Box: After civil rights groups pushed for and won various measures to increase voter turnout in the 2000s, Republicans, who won control of both state houses in 2010, fought these efforts tooth and nail, successfully slashing the early voting period, ending same-day voter registration, and passing initiatives to reduce access to polling places.
These Policies Are Driven by Politics and Sometimes Race:
- Governor Pat McCrory: Elected in 2012, McCrory often said on the campaign trail that a voter ID would be a top priority of his administration. Less than a year after taking office, H.B. 589 was law. The legislation required voters to present a photo ID to vote – tellingly, black North Carolinians constituted 22 percent of the registered voting population in 2012 but made up 34 percent of those who don’t have a driver’s license or state photo ID. The bill also reduced the early voting period from 17 days to 10 (70 percent of black voters cast their ballot during the early voting period in 2012), and it ended the preregistration of teenagers before their 18th birthdays and abolished same-day voter registration. The U.S Department of Justice filed suit against McCrory and other state officials under the remaining sections of the Voting Rights Act claiming that “at least four provisions of H.B. 589 were adopted with the purpose, and will have the result, of denying” a minority group the right to vote.
- Former State House Speaker Thom Tillis (Now a U.S. Senator): When voting rights groups and black churches in the state filed suit against the law, Tillis and other lawmakers claimed “legislative immunity” and refused to comply with a federal judge’s ruling asking them to turn over their correspondence related to the law. One newspaper predicted that these documents “may show an intent to make it more difficult for Democrat-leaning African Americans, college students, or elderly residents to vote.” While crafting the legislation, the Republican-controlled General Assembly had requested and received data on voters’ use of various voting practices by race that showed African American voters were disproportionately less likely to have an ID and more likely to cast a provisional ballot. Then, “with race data in hand, the legislature amended the bill to exclude many of the alternative photo IDs used by African Americans” and “retained only the kinds of IDs that white North Carolinians were more likely to possess.” Fittingly, Tillis, who as speaker had in many ways the greatest influence over this legislation, many have benefitted the most from it, given he won his election, in which nearly three million votes were cast, by a mere 45,000 votes.
- State Representative Bert Jones: Sponsored bill in 2011 to reduce the early voting period from two and a half weeks to a week and a half.
- State Senator Jim Davis: Introduced bill in 2011 to eliminate same-day registration, reduce the early voting period by a week, and prohibit early voting on Sundays – the latter of which was a response to the “Souls to the Polls” effort, which typically took groups of African Americans to early voting sites after church.
- State Senator Ralph Hise: Was a co-sponsor of Sen. Davis’ legislation. Hise admitted the legislation targeted Sunday voting because it was “obvious” it had been “used by urban areas to increase their influence” and acknowledged that he “wouldn’t mind eliminating early voting completely.” Was also a sponsor of H.B. 589.
- State Senator Bob Rucho: Was a key figure in drafting H.B. 589. In December 2013, Sen. Rucho tweeted that the Affordable Care Act had “done more damage to the USA” than “acts committed by Nazis, Soviets, and terrorists combined.” His comparison made national news, and even Claude Pope, the state Republican Party chair, called on Sen. Rucho to apologize. Instead, Sen. Rucho doubled down by refusing to apologize for the statement, which he said stood on “truth.”
- State Senator Phil Berger: Falsely claimed during the run-up to its passage that the changes made by H.B. 589 would still allow voters to have “the same number of hours” for early voting. (In 2014, voters in more than a third of North Carolina’s 100 counties had less time to vote than in 2010.)
- State Representative Michael Speciale: In early 2013, when NAACP President Rev. William J. Barber II urged the N.C. legislature to oppose voter ID legislation, Speciale called Barber and the NAACP leaders “racists.” In an e-mail, Speciale said Barber’s opposition was “tarnishing the NAACP’s proud history” with “racist diatribes and . . . [a] race baiting attitude.” In September 2015, Speciale shared a Facebook post calling President Obama an “Islamic son of a b***h.” In August 2016, he posted a photo suggesting that wearing Nazi uniforms to the Democratic National Convention would allow attendees to go “unnoticed.”
- State Representative Harry Warren: One of the sponsors of H.B. 589, which supporters claimed would tackle voter fraud. Warren’s own rap sheet suggests he knows quite a bit about fraud; in the late-’90s, he was charged with writing bad checks eight times over a two-year period.
- State Representative George Cleveland: Introduced a bill in 2011 to end the requirement that certain counties print ballot instructions in both English and Spanish, which would have discouraged American citizens whose first language is Spanish from voting.
- State Representative Tim Moore: Sponsored a bill in 2011 that would have required voters to show photo ID to vote. Rep. Rodney Moore (no relation) called the bill “an insult” to him and to “the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King.”
- Former Republican Precinct Chair Don Yelton: In an April 2013 House Elections Committee meeting, Yelton told state legislators that “changing state election laws could help Republicans win elections” by disenfranchising “special voting blocks” in the Democratic Party. He went on to make national headlines later in 2013, when he went on “The Daily Show” to defend H.B. 589. In the interview, he bragged that the law was going to “kick the Democrats in the butt,” and if it “hurts a bunch of lazy blacks that want the government to give them everything, so be it.” Yelton said he has no regrets about his racially charged comments.
State and Local Election Administrators Motivated by Partisanship and Sometimes Race:
- North Carolina State Board of Elections: Administers the elections process, much like a Department of State would in other states. In April 2013, Gov. McCrory appointed a new five-member board, including Rhonda K. Amoroso, who was reportedly “championing changes to election laws in the state – particularly the new voter ID legislation.” In 2014, the SBOE released a report claiming of the 4.45 million North Carolinians who voted in the 2012 election, more than 35,000 had the same name and birthdate as voters registered in another state. The board admitted when they expanded their search to include social security numbers, that number dropped down to 765. When the executive director of the SBOE, Kim Strach, testified on behalf of state officials in trial on H.B. 589 that her office had “received numerous calls” from residents “concerned about potential voter fraud,” during the cross-examination admitted “she could not find any evidence of significant fraud in same-day voter registration.”
- Watauga County Board of Elections Chair Bill Aceto: Has repeatedly pushed for the elimination of a polling place at the Appalachian State University student union (instead moving it to a local concert venue) and advocated for consolidating the three precincts in the county’s largest town into a single voting site.
- Edgecombe County Board of Elections Chair James C. Proctor: Has expressly advocated for voter suppression policies on social media. Proctor commented on a photo posted by a Facebook page called “Obama Makes Me Puke” that said, “How are voter ID laws racist? The real racists are liberals who think only white people are capable of getting an ID.” Proctor responded by saying that without voter ID, group home attendants would be able to help “senile and mentally handicapped residents” vote.
- Edgecombe County Board of Elections Member Janet Lewis: Lewis has shared numerous offensive and partisan posts on social media, including a photo Facebook that said, “Give a man a fish, and he eats for a day. Give a man a welfare check, a free cellphone, food stamps, section 8 housing, a six-pack of beer, a crack pipe, and some Air Jordan’s, and he’ll vote Democrat for the rest of his life.” Lewis also “liked” a number of Facebook posts that advocated for voter suppression policies.
- Mecklenburg County Board of Elections Chair Mary Potter Summa: Summa, chair of the Mecklenburg County Board of Elections, supported cutting early voting hours in 2016. Summa is a longtime Republican activist who has defended her cuts to early voting with unsubstantiated claims about voter fraud. She claimed that “the more [early voting] sites we have, the more opportunities exist for violations.”
- Craven County Board of Elections: The Republican-majority Craven County Board of Elections introduced an early voting plan in 2016 that eliminated Sunday voting, even though they had offered it during the 2012 presidential election. At the September 2016 State Board of Elections hearing on early voting plans, the director of the county board admitted that they did not consider the impact of cutting Sunday voting on minority voters, even though African American voters disproportionately took advantage of Sunday voting in 2012.
- Bertie County Board of Elections Chair Carol Woodard: The Bertie County Board of Elections approved a plan that slashed early voting hours almost in half, cutting them from 218.5 in 2012, down to 111 in 2016. Woodard serves as the Republican chair of the board. She has shared numerous posts on social media that advocated for increasing restrictions to voting and demonstrated her partisan motivations for supporting voter suppression policies, including one that PolitiFact ranked as “Pants on Fire.”
- Cumberland County Board of Elections Member Robert Kevin Hight: Intensely opposes the state board’s decision to offer Sunday voting in Cumberland County (though only for one Sunday) in the 2016 presidential election. He has shared numerous right-wing and racially charged posts on social media, including some that make false claims about voter fraud and advocate for voter suppression policies. He shared an article on Facebook in 2013 from the Civitas Institute, claiming that a single case showed “how easy it is to commit voter fraud in North Carolina.” Hight “liked” a photo of members of the Congressional Black Caucus that read, “Is it Racist to have a ‘Black Caucus’ in Congress? Yes = Like.”
- Duplin County Board of Elections Chair Derl Walker: Walker proposed an early voting plan for the 2016 election that The Duplin Times described as representing “partisan interests.” Before the May 2014 primary election, Walker announced that poll workers would be “preparing” voters for the state’s future voter ID requirements by asking to see their photo IDs at the polls, even though H.B. 589’s voter ID provisions wouldn’t go into effect until 2016. He was also at the center of racially charged controversy on the Duplin County Board of Elections when he was accused of not considering two qualified employees for the open position of board director because of their race.
- Pasquotank County Board of Elections: Within hours of Gov. McCrory signing H.B. 589, the GOP-controlled local election board in Pasquotank County went to work to take away the electoral rights of students at a local HBCU, ruling that an on-campus address could not be “used to establish local residency.” They even barred a student at the university from running for city council.
- Guilford County Board of Elections: Voted to eliminate Sunday voting in the county in 2014. In July 2015, Don Wendelken, one of the GOP members of the board, suggested on Facebook that Planned Parenthood “killed 90,000 black babies last year.” In March 2016, he posted that transgender people were “confused” and that people should “SAY NO TO PAYPAL” because the company supports allowing transgender people to “use any bathroom they feel like.”
North Carolina’s Voter Suppression Groups
- Art Pope: Pope is the main funding source for a number of voter suppression groups throughout North Carolina that he established, including Americans for Prosperity–North Carolina, the John Locke Foundation, and the Civitas Institute. Pope has contributed more than $55 million through his family foundation to build a “robust network of conservative think tanks and advocacy groups” in order to create a “state version of what his friends Charles and David Koch have helped create on a national level.” In 1990, Pope founded the John Locke Foundation, a 501(c)3 foundation that pushes conservative policy “as an answer” to the “liberal establishment.” About 80 percent of the foundation’s funding has come from the Pope family foundation. In 2005, Art Pope set up the Civitas Institute, a conservative policy and polling 501(c)3 non-profit group to offer the “intellectual underpinning” for “regulatory and voting changes.” The Civitas Institute has a “near-total reliance” on Pope, getting more than 97 percent of its funding from the Pope family foundation. According to an article in the New Yorker, Pope “has created a singular influence machine that, according to critics, blurs the lines between tax-deductible philanthropy and corporate-funded partisan advocacy.”
- Civitas Institute: Starting in 2008, the foundation, along with the John Locke Foundation “published more than 50 articles, op-eds and blog posts warning of voter fraud and using the alleged threat to call for a strict photo ID law, an end to same-day registration, and a shorter early voting period.” In 2015, Civitas Institute analyst Susan Myrick, a frequent speaker at Tea Party events, pushed a report from the group purporting to uncover a left-wing conspiracy “as liberal as a pink Prius.” The report declared that there was a “nefarious underworld” of 140 interwoven liberal groups in North Carolina.
- John Locke Foundation: Has deep conservative and Tea Party ties and see itself as an answer to the “liberal establishment.” It mounted a vigorous defense of H.B. 589, attacking liberals for “getting it wrong” on the legislation, claiming that the law had not suppressed black turnout from 2010 to 2014, neglecting to note that H.B. 589’s voter ID requirement was only set to take effect in 2016. In March 2012, a blogger on the foundation’s website posted a racist and lewd image of President Obama and was forced to resign because of it.
- North Carolina Chapter of Americans for Prosperity: Chapter was formerly led by Dallas Woodhouse, who was once accused of cutting off the email of the state’s first black state GOP chairman, who called out Woodhouse by asking him, “Am I not white enough for you?” After Woodhouse left AFP-NC, he led Carolina Rising, which spent 97 percent of its money (more than the 50 percent allowed by law) on TV ads supporting Thom Tillis in his successful campaign for the U.S. Senate.
- Voter Integrity Project: Founded by in 2011 by Jay DeLancy as an offshoot of True the Vote, a national effort that has been criticized by voting rights advocates for intimidating voters. In 2012, when the national True the Vote organization became concerned with DeLancy’s anti-immigrant leanings, the Voter Integrity Project broke off from True the Vote. In 2014, the project teamed up with the Asheville Tea Party to challenge the voter registrations of 182 North Carolinians, with DeLancy praising the ATP for its “miraculous working.” In 2012, after the Voter Integrity Project announced it had identified 27,561 dead people still on the North Carolina voter rolls, the SBOE declared that 82 percent of those voters identified by the Voter Integrity Project were still alive. DeLancy has claimed that “efforts to block or weaken” voter ID requirement were “part of a vast left-wing conspiracy to pad the voter rolls with non-citizens.”
- Judicial Watch: A national conservative-leaning organization that uses litigation to make its political points. Worked with Christina Kelley Gallegos-Merrill, a Tea Party-endorsed Republican who lost her bid for Buncombe County Board of Commissioners by 13 votes, claiming she had lost because of the same-day registration during the early-voting period combined with the lack of a photo ID requirement. A federal court tossed out Gallegos-Merrill and Judicial Watch’s related lawsuit.
Text of Letter to Chairman Whitney (PDF Download):
The Honorable A. Grant Whitney, Jr.
North Carolina State Board of Elections
P.O. Box 27255
Raleigh, NC 27611-7255
RE: Investigation into Partisanship/Racial Animus in North Carolina Election Administration
Dear Chairman Whitney,
As State Board of Elections chairman set the tone for how elections should be administered in North Carolina. County election board members, state legislators, and other statewide elected officials look to your example when considering questions of voter registration and election administration.
That is why we write to you today: in hopes that your office will root out any North Carolina election official – both at the county election board level and in your own office – who is motivated by partisanship or racial animus.
Our request comes after a months-long investigation into North Carolina’s election administration resulting in the publication of a new report included with this letter. It details recent attempts by state and local officials to make voter registration and voting more difficult through efforts that disproportionately affect minority, senior citizen, disabled, and low-income voters.
It also reveals the partisan political motivations behind many of these efforts and the unfortunately common occurrence of local election officials who should be demonstrating impartiality instead making partisan, racially charged, and/or conspiratorial comments publicly on social media.
Voters must be able to trust that our elections are being administered in a fair and even-handed way by officials committed to neutrality and objectivity.
As North Carolina’s chief election official and steward of the state’s democratic process, it is your responsibility to hold accountable anyone who does not meet this high standard.
We hope you will rise to the occasion.
Thank you for your thoughtful consideration of our request. If you have any questions or need additional information, please don’t hesitate to contact us directly.
This report is one of several state-based investigations being released by Allied Progress this month.
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