NCGOP leader lobbied counties to offer just one early voting site in ‘confidential’ email

While the N.C. Republican Party’s executive director pushed counties to reduce early voting opportunities, another GOP leader went a step further: Calling on Republican county election officials to offer only one early voting site for the minimum hours allowed by law.

In an email with the subject line “CRITICAL and CONFIDENTIAL,” NCGOP 1st Congressional District Chairman Garry Terry told county election board members that they “are expected to act within the law and in the best interest of the party.”

Terry argued that any early voting hours and sites beyond the legal minimum would give Democrats an advantage in November.

“We will never discourage anyone from voting but none of us have any obligation in any shape, form or fashion to do anything to help the Democrats win this election,” Terry wrote. “Left unchecked, they would have early voting sites at every large gathering place for Democrats.”

While Terry labeled his memo “confidential,” emails to county board of elections members are subject to the state’s public records law and must be released upon request. The Vance County Board of Elections recently provided Terry’s memo in response to a records request from The News & Observer.

Terry’s memo suggests two options for county board of elections members: They should make the “financially prudent decision” to schedule a single early voting site during weekday business hours, or “do nothing and do not meet at all” before the state deadline for filing early voting schedules. He says the second option would result in the state automatically setting the minimum hours.

Terry encourages board members with questions to contact him or NCGOP executive director Dallas Woodhouse, who wrote his own memo to Republican board members calling for “party line changes” limiting early voting.

The Watauga County Board of Elections did not initially vote on an early voting schedule, but Republicans and the Democrat on that board have now submitted competing proposals, according to the State Board of Elections. The state board will meet Thursday morning to settle disputed early voting plans in 33 counties, including Wake, Orange, Mecklenburg, Franklin and Harnett.

The three-member county election boards, which have a Republican majority because the GOP holds the governor’s mansion, did not come to a unanimous agreement on early voting schedules in those 33 counties.

Of those counties, the Republican board members in five are seeking a plan in line with Terry’s request – daytime, weekday early voting hours at a single location, along with Saturday hours at that location.

Bertie, Duplin, Lenoir, Martin and Pamlico have all voted in favor of such plans, with Democrats proposing alternative plans with more locations and hours. Ten other counties have approved similar plans with a unanimous vote, meaning the schedules are final and the State Board of Elections won’t take action.

As the state board prepares for its meeting, N.C. Democratic Party chairwoman Patsy Keever sent a five-page memo to board members outlining her party’s priorities for early voting.

Keever says that some county boards used the elimination of a requirement to offer at least the same number of hours as 2012 as “an opportunity to restrict early voting in a manner that will be damaging to the electorate as a whole, and to African-American voters in particular.”

Keever calls on the state board to set schedules that include more early voting hours and sites than counties offered in 2012, including multiple sites in the first week. Wake is among counties offering just one site – the Board of Elections office downtown – during the first week of early voting.

The Democratic Party is also seeking schedules that include Saturday and Sunday hours – Sunday voting is popular among African-American voters who join “souls to the polls” programs after church – as well as extending the final day of early voting to at least 5 p.m.

Keever notes that the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will likely look to see if the state’s early voting schedules comply with the court’s ruling throwing out the state’s voter ID law. The reduction of Sunday voting was a particular concern of the court in its ruling, which said the law’s “provisions target African Americans with almost surgical precision.”

“Efforts to eliminate early voting on Sundays defy the court, and are likely to disproportionately affect African-American voters and violate both the U.S. Constitution and the Voting Rights Act,” she wrote.

The plaintiffs in the voter ID lawsuit, including the NAACP and the League of Women Voters, also wrote a letter to the state board expressing similar concerns and threatening further legal action.

“If the SBOE does not act to correct the legal infirmities in these plans, we will seek immediate, emergency judicial relief to ensure that the fundamental voting rights of North Carolinians are not abridged or denied by these attempts to make an end run around” the 4th Circuit ruling, the letter said.

Colin Campbell: 919-829-4698, @RaleighReporter

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