Attorney General Roy Cooper chose this week – with the Martin Luther King Jr. observance this past Monday and the opening of a federal voting rights trial this coming Monday – to renew his criticism of new restrictions at the polls.
Even though his office is defending the state against the federal lawsuit, as it is required to do, Cooper the candidate for governor is speaking out against it.
On Monday, Cooper’s campaign released a statement calling for a reversal of the legislature’s 2013 law, signed by Gov. Pat McCrory, making changes to state election law, including the eventual requirement that voters produce photo identification. Cooper called for restoring a week of early voting that was eliminated (although the number of hours when polls are open remained the same), allowing people to register to vote online, and reinstating same-day voter registration.
Cooper quoted the civil rights leader several times in the campaign statement. Two days later, he followed up with another emailed statement calling on supporters to sign a petition demanding McCrory and the legislature roll back the voting changes.
“As your next governor, I'll fight against politically motivated voting laws and work to protect our rights,” Cooper said.
The messages prompted criticism from his opponent in the Democratic primary, Ken Spaulding, who is basing much of his campaign on promising to address the concerns of African-Americans in the state. Speaking at a meeting of ministers in Winson-Salem, Spaulding said Cooper’s comments were insincere since he is also defending the lawsuit.
“You do not dishonor the African American community and other communities by being in court fighting against our right to vote,” he said, according to the Winston-Salem Journal.
It’s a point that Spaulding has been hammering on for months. Cooper’s campaign strategist has responded that Cooper spoke out against the law and said he would have vetoed it if he was governor.
Spaulding contends Cooper had a choice, pointing out he declined to defend the state’s ban on gay marriage after a federal appeals court striking it down rendered further appeals useless.
Ricky Diaz, spokesman for McCrory’s re-election campaign, responded by email on Wednesday:
“If Roy Cooper is defending Voter ID simply because it's his job to defend the state, why isn't he defending the state when it comes to the president's overreaching immigration executive order or the EPA's harmful water regulations? It's pretty clear he's picking and choosing when to do his job for political reasons, but regardless, his attacking the law he is currently defending in court raises a clear conflict of interest for the attorney general as well as serious professional and ethical questions.”