The North Carolina NAACP has filed a complaint accusing Senate leader Phil Berger of misleading voters with a short TV ad that the group worries could have a “chilling effect” on this year’s turnout.
The NAACP, which filed its complaint Tuesday with the State Board of Elections, says it wants an investigation as well as criminal prosecution of Berger by district attorneys where the ad aired.
In the 30-second spot, Berger, an Eden Republican, touts the legislature’s 2013 voting law that requires voters to show a valid photo ID at the polls. The NAACP’s complaint says the ad does not make it clear that photo IDs aren’t required until the 2016 elections.
“On information and belief, Sen. Berger has spent $122,000 on this ad, and similar ones, in an effort to intimidate and discourage people who do not have a photo ID for the 2014 elections,” wrote NAACP state President William Barber II and staff in the filing.
The complaint asks the State Board of Elections to “immediately issue an order to cease and desist this misleading advertisement and website video, and that it conduct an expedited investigation, and refer this case for prosecution to the Guilford County District Attorney (and other prosecutors where the alleged crime was committed) for criminal prosecution of Mr. Berger and those acting in concert with him, to intimidate and discourage potential voters.” Guilford County was one of the areas where the ad was aired.
It’s a felony in North Carolina to “directly or indirectly” misrepresent voting law through mass communication methods for the purposes of hindering voting rights.
Berger was not available for comment, but Ray Martin, the political director for the Senate Caucus, emailed this statement: “It is outrageous that William Barber and the NAACP are asking government regulators to suppress Senator Berger’s First Amendment rights and silence his campaign’s message to voters regarding Photo ID.”
An Elon Poll released Monday showed that more than 72 percent of North Carolinians support showing a photo ID when voting.
“Senator Berger has always and will always encourage every North Carolinian who is eligible to vote to fulfill their civic duty and exercise their constitutional right to vote,” Martin added.
Barber described the complaint at a news conference Tuesday in Raleigh. He also declared a blitz of voter education and motivation via social media and radio ads.
“This is an all-out push to ensure that the 2014 elections are not an election year off but an election year on,” Barber said.
The State Board of Elections sent Berger a copy of the complaint Tuesday afternoon and gave him the option of responding in writing by no later than noon Wednesday.
Elections board spokesman Josh Lawson said the quick response deadline was because the ad might still be running in certain markets.
Berger is running for an eighth term in the N.C. Senate.
Lawson in an email noted his office’s voter education efforts to ensure the electorate is fully informed about the changes in law, when they’re effective and what’s happening at the polls this year.
“Poll workers will inform each voter that photo identification is not required until 2016,” Lawson said in an email. “Every precinct will post signs indicating that photo identification is not required in this election.”
He added that every residential address in North Carolina is slated to receive a judicial election guide that also points out a photo ID is not a voting requirement this year.
The NAACP is staunchly opposed to the 2013 law that set up the voter ID mandate and has fought it through the court system in hopes of overturning it. The same law also repealed same-day registration and voting, straight-ticket voting and out-of-precinct voting. It also reduced the number of early voting days. The civil rights group argues the changes were meant to affect the turnout of minorities and others who tend not to vote Republican.
The Republican-controlled legislature that wrote and passed the law said it was important for elections integrity, which Berger’s TV spot reiterates.
“You need a photo ID to drive, cash your check, even to buy medicine,” an announcer says in the ad. “Shouldn’t you show a photo ID to vote? Liberals like Obama and Kay Hagan say no. Phil Berger fought the liberals, and won. Now, thanks to Phil Berger, voters must show a valid photo ID to vote.”
Berger then appears on screen to speak: “Voter ID prevents fraud and protects the integrity of our elections. It’s common sense.”
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 34 states have passed laws requiring some form of ID to vote.
Benjamin Brown writes for the NCInsider.com, www.ncinsider.com, a government news service owned by The News & Observer.