A host of groups – including the NAACP, the League of Women Voters, the American Civil Liberties Union and the U.S. Justice Department – are spending time filing papers in federal court these days seeking email and other communications related to voting law changes in North Carolina.
Republican lawmakers, enamored with having control of the General Assembly and the governor’s office for the first time in more than 100 years, have been like kids in the electoral candy shop. They stuffed themselves when it came to redistricting, giving themselves partisan advantage beyond common sense, and then they turned to outright voter suppression.
Their election law changes added a photo voter ID requirement, curbed the early voting period, ended straight-ticket voting and did away with same-day registration – all of which happen to disproportionately affect minority, younger and older voters, many of whom are inclined to vote Democratic.
Voter ID? Have to prevent voter fraud, its supporters say. But voter fraud has been virtually nonexistent in North Carolina. The maneuvers on early voting and straight-ticket voting and the like were more blatant in terms of partisanship. Those Republican lawmakers did it because they could.
Now their actions are all the more suspicious because they are hiding from public disclosure. They’re saying they don’t have to give up the emails and other documents they generated as part of their public actions because they’re protected by “legislative immunity.”
Their court documents get more insulting. Lawmakers, they said, should be “free from arrest or civil process for what they do in legislative proceedings” and their immunity frees them “not only from the consequences of litigation, it also frees them from the burden of defending themselves.”
Immunity’s real purpose is to ensure that legislators engaged in vigorous debate aren’t restricted by the constant threat of lawsuits filed by other lawmakers. We shall see in court, presumably, whether a judge will determine that the protections extend to documents created on the public’s dime that influenced the creation of legislation.
In this case, those documents might validate the suspicions of many North Carolina residents and the groups that represent them that GOP lawmakers did not set out to improve the election system and make things more efficient. The documents may show an intent to make it more difficult for Democrat-leaning African-Americans, college students or elderly residents to vote.
If such is not the case, these requested documents would prove it, so the resistance of GOP lawmakers and leaders to releasing communications pertaining to this issue is suspicious indeed. What are they afraid of? What is it that they do not want the people to see?
These are the same people, after all, who while in the minority preached open government and rightly rode the Democrats like a $2 mule over their closed-door meetings. When Gov. Pat McCrory was running in 2008, he talked about broken government and the need for openness and integrity. If the Democrats were doing this, Republicans would be screaming the windows right out of the Legislative Building.
Now, given the opportunity to demonstrate that they meant what they said, that they really are part of that new culture their governor talked about on the campaign trail, the Republican leadership is stonewalling.
There is only one way to answer critics: Release all emails and documents connected to these laws and let the people judge for themselves. Absent that kind of action, the residents of North Carolina are left with only one conclusion: The Republicans have something to hide.