- The General Assembly passed H1169, a bill designed to deal with voting during the coronavirus pandemic, with wide bipartisan majorities.
- The passage of H1169 will likely undermine two lawsuits brought by left-wing groups trying to erode the integrity of absentee voting in North Carolina.
- A section of H1169 that includes public assistance IDs in North Carolina’s voter ID law will likely threaten two court injunctions against the ID law, causing some Democrats to vote against it.
I have previously noted two serious problems with H1169:
- Reduction of the witness requirement for absentee ballots from two to one.
- The online absentee ballot request portal can be used by political operatives to go door-to-door with portable devices to submit absentee ballot requests, letting them know when and where absentee ballots will be in order to collect them.
Of course, as evidenced by the wide bipartisan majorities that supported the legislation in the General Assembly, there was also much to like about the bill. Among other things, it gives election boards more flexibility on staffing polling places while giving both major parties input in the process. The legislation requires polling places to be safer for voters and election workers, and also provides funds to help election boards cover the costs of coronavirus protections.
H1169 is also good because it will likely help remove several lawsuits from North Carolina’s sue-happy political scene.
Undermining coronavirus lawsuits
The most direct victims of H1169 are a pair of lawsuits seeking to use the coronavirus as an excuse to gut North Carolina’s absentee ballot protections.
The first lawsuit, filed on May 4, is the product of attorney Marc Elias and Eric Holder’s National Redistricting Foundation. North Carolinians may best know Elias as Dan McCready’s lawyer during the NC State Board of Election’s (SBE) 9th Congressional District hearings last year, during which he did mental twists and flips to point out alleged ballot harvesting in Bladen County by McCrae Dowless while ignoring similar documented activities by others in Bladen County that benefited his client.
As if to underscore Elias’ easygoing attitude toward absentee ballot integrity, his lawsuit seeks to undermine election integrity in several ways, including removing the witness requirement for absentee ballots entirely and requiring county elections boards to presume that a ballot was mailed by election day even if it shows up without a postmark up to nine days after the election.
(Perhaps unironically, Elias is also behind a lawsuit that is trying to strike down a bipartisan law enacted in late 2019 designed to stop the kind of absentee ballot fraud that caused the SBE to throw out the 2018 9th Congressional District race.)
There is also a copycat lawsuit (Democracy NC v. NC State Board of Elections), filed on May 22 in federal court, that seeks a similar wish list of judicial changes to North Carolina’s election law.
The problem for the groups pushing these lawsuits is that H1169 contradicts their claims that North Carolina is not doing anything significant to deal with the Coronavirus during the 2020 election. They are now only left claiming that the changes were not extreme enough. Even that position will be hard to maintain when Democrats such as Rep. Pricey Harrison (D-Guilford) are saying things like this of the bill: “There’s so much in this bill that’s going to make our elections safer and more secure.”
The bipartisan nature of support for H1169 underscores how extreme those lawsuits are, making it harder for judges to justify changing election law from the bench.
Democrats get what they wanted on voter ID and some don’t like it
One part of HB 1169 that ignited some controversy is the section that expands the list of acceptable photo IDs to include IDs produced by public assistance agencies. That caused an uproar by some of the more extreme progressive legislators and led to them voting against a bill that included many provisions to protect voters and election workers from the coronavirus.
Let’s compare that to an amendment offered by Rep. Billie Richardson (D-Cumberland) to S824, the bill that implemented North Carolina’s Voter ID constitutional amendment. Her amendment (which failed on a 38-68 vote with all but 3 Democrats voting in favor) would have included public assistance IDs in the list of acceptable photo IDs for voting:
An identification card issued by a branch, department, agency, or entity of the United States or this State for a government program of public assistance.
Let’s compare that to the section of H1169 that some Democrats objected to (Section 10 on page 5):
An identification card issued by a department, agency, or entity of the United States government or this State for a government program of public assistance.
So, why would the legislative language that Democrats fought for just 19 months ago cause some of them to vote against a bill that includes it now? Ironically, those Democrats oppose the public assistance ID language now precisely because they supported it 19 months ago.
To understand the reasoning for that, you must remember that the voter ID law has been enjoined by two courts. Both a federal judge in NAACP v. Cooper and a state appeals court in Holmes v. Moore listed the lack of a public assistance ID as evidence for their belief that North Carolina’s voter ID law is discriminatory. Federal District Court Judge Loretta Biggs found the lack of public assistance photo IDs in the law to be “particularly suspect” (page 22). So, the inclusion of public assistance IDs undermines the plaintiffs’ arguments as both cases work their way through the appeals process. The Democratic legislators who voted against H1169 would rather have the courts continue to block North Carolina’s constitutional-mandated voter ID law than support what they clearly believe (based on their votes for the Richardson amendment in 2018) to be good public policy.
The good news is that most Democrats did not sink to that level of duplicity; 50 Democrats in the General Assembly voted for the bill (as did all Republicans) while only 26 voted against it.
Warts and all, H1169 will both make North Carolina’s general election this fall safer and make it at least a little more difficult for progressive groups to dictate election law in the courts.