Judicial Watch wants to join fray over NC voter ID law

ablythe@newsobserver.comDecember 14, 2013 

— Judicial Watch, a conservative-leaning organization that uses litigation to make its political points, wants in on the legal fray over North Carolina’s elections law changes.

The Washington-based organization filed a motion on Friday to intervene on behalf of North Carolina officials defending the new rules.

“We think it’s a case of national importance,” said Tom Fitton, Judicial Watch president.

In the court documents seeking status in the four-month-old lawsuit, Judicial Watch highlights an unsuccessful 2012 candidate for Buncombe County commissioner as the basis for the organization’s interest.

Christina Kelley Gallegos-Merrill, a Republican who lost her bid for county office by 13 votes, contends that same-day registration during the early-voting period could have played a role in her loss.

She contends that some students from Warren Wilson College, which she said had just been named as “the most liberal”college in a Newsweek poll, had given general on-campus addresses when registering and voting. She has contended that some of the students did not live in the residence halls they listed on their registrations and should not have been allowed to vote where they did.

“I believe that I was harmed by, and possibly lost because of, the same-day registration during the early-voting period combined with the lack of a photo ID requirement,” Gallegos-Merrill stated in an affidavit filed with the Judicial Watch documents. “I believe that, because of these laws, a transient student population, of motivated, partisan voters, was able to deceive poll workers about which dorm they supposedly lived in, in order to oppose my candidacy.”

Gallegos-Merrill sought relief from the county and state boards of election, but did not convince them that anything wrong had occurred.

Judicial Watch, which tangled with the Obama administration in Florida last year over efforts by the group to purge voter rolls there just months before the 2012 presidential election, has advocated voter ID laws for years.

Looking to 2014

Republicans have pushed for voter ID laws, arguing that they prevent voter fraud. Democrats and voting rights advocates point out that few cases of voter fraud have been brought across the country.

The NAACP, League of Women Voters, ACLU, the U.S. Justice Department and other groups that have filed lawsuits seeking to overturn large portions of the sweeping election law revision argue that the voter ID rule is intended, instead, to suppress votes, particularly those of African-Americans who often support Democrats.

In their lawsuit filed in August, the voter-rights advocates also are challenging cuts to the number of days that early voting is offered, the end of same-day registration and voting, and other measures.

Last week, a federal judge set a trial date for the summer of 2015, but set a hearing for this next summer to determine whether to order an injunction that keeps the rules from going into effect for the 2014 elections.

Though Judicial Watch stated in its request to intervene in the suit that state officials had indicated a willingness to allow the addition to the defense, a judge will ultimately decide.

Irv Joyner, an attorney for the NAACP, said Friday he expected Judicial Watch to be just one of many organizations seeking to intervene in the suits.

The attorneys had not discussed how they would respond to the immediate request or others. They have focused more recently on scheduling and witnesses they plan to line up for a case that is likely to generate national interest.

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

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