Winston-Salem, N.C. — A federal judge said Friday that she needs more information before deciding whether 13 North Carolina lawmakers should have to turn over records relating to election law changes passed last year.
The North Carolina chapter of the NAACP, the League of Women Voters of North Carolina, the American Civil Liberties Union and others are asking the judge to force lawmakers to release emails and other records related to the passage of the new elections law.
The law requires voters to show photo identification at the polls. It also limits early voting times and ends same-day registration. The plaintiffs say those changes are designed to suppress voter turnout, especially among minorities. Lawmakers have so far refused to release any records about the law, citing "legislative immunity."
"We request documentation that shows the circumstances under which this (law) was passed," said ACLU attorney Julie Ebenstein. "These claims are very serious."
Alexander Peters, an attorney for the state, argued that lawmakers are immune from having to disclose those records and that they are exempt from the state's public records law.
"(The plaintiffs) are saying, 'Tell us why you voted how you voted,'" Peters said. "What an individual legislator thought on that is not only irrelevant, it is not evidence of what the General Assembly intended."
U.S. Magistrate Judge Joi Elizabeth Peake said she would take the issue under advisement and asked the attorneys to give her more information before she makes a ruling.
"I'm looking for actual examples of immunity being used (to quash subpoenas)," Peake said. "I don't want to stretch this out, given the timeframes that you're under."
The NAACP, ACLU and others are suing Gov. Pat McCrory and the State Board of Elections over the new elections law. The U.S. Department of Justice filed a separate lawsuit, alleging that North Carolina's law is racially motivated.
McCrory and Republican lawmakers who crafted the legislation contend that North Carolina is merely trying to combat voter fraud and ensure the integrity of its elections, and they note that many other states already have similar laws for voter ID, same-day registration and other provisions in North Carolina's law.