As early voting opens for the 2014 general election, an attorney representing the state in the lawsuit fighting state election law reforms is seeking further information regarding statements made earlier this month by the Rev. William Barber at the state NAACP convention.
The statements, according to a memo by Butch Bowers, indicate that Barber urged those attending the convention to take people who have not registered to vote to early voting sites and transport registered voters to their wrong precincts on election day. Both practices — same-day registration at early voting locations and out-of-precinct voting — were prohibited by the General Assembly’s 2013 election law.
Bowers is a South Carolina attorney hired last year by Republican Gov. Pat McCrory to help defend the lawsuit. A year ago, McCrory’s chief legal counsel, Bob Stephens, said Bowers was hired because Democratic Attorney General Roy Cooper had stated publicly that McCrory should veto the broad changes in election law passed by the Republican-dominated General Assembly. McCrory signed the bill into law, and the governor and his advisors were concerned that Cooper would not defend the law aggressively in court.
While the law’s provision requiring voters to present a state-approved identity document at polling places does not take effect until 2016, the two changes reportedly discussed by Barber at the NAACP convention are now in effect.
The state NAACP and other groups have filed lawsuits challenging all three provisions in the new law, among others.
Earlier this fall, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals blocked implementation of the same-day registration and out-of-precinct voting provisions. However, the appeals court’s order was short-lived, as the U.S. Supreme Court blocked the appeals court’s order for the 2014 midterm elections, immediately barring same-day registration and out-of-precinct voting.
Bowers in his memo said the stated purpose for Barber’s request to bring unregistered people to the polls during early voting and take voters to improper precincts was to “gather evidence” that would enhance the plaintiffs’ chances of succeeding in the lawsuit. Bowers also said that doing such things also would “be disruptive to the election process and could result in voter confusion or disenfranchisement.”
Bowers continued, “We also question whether any such plan or conduct violates North Carolina election laws.”
Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett, who helped author the state’s new voting laws, said he had heard reports of Barber’s comments. “If indeed, any group is more concerned with causing havoc to the election process than simply getting people registered to vote, I think that is extremely disingenuous and extremely inappropriate,” Lewis said.
Lewis said those moves, along with the late-breaking court orders, could create confusion at election time.
“I believe that is intended often to create confusion and uncertainty,” Lewis said. “It’s like my mom and dad always said, if you spend your time on how to do things right, you’d have a lot more success than if you tried to beat the system.”
The Bowers memo said that the comments were made Oct. 11 during the state NAACP’s convention in Fayetteville.
The Bowers memo is posted on the Judicial Watch website. Neither Bowers nor Irving Joyner, a law professor at N.C. Central University and legal counsel for the state NAACP, responded to requests for comment on the memo.