Voter ID suit could open lawmaker emails to public for first time

Posted March 28, 2014

— A lawsuit challenging a sweeping elections law that the General Assembly passed last year could force open legislative emails to public inspection for the first time.

North Carolina's public records law gives people the right to see emails and letters by government officials, but state lawmakers have claimed for years that they're exempt from that law.

Groups that oppose the law, including the state chapter of the NAACP, the League of Women Voters of North Carolina and the American Civil Liberties Union, contend that lawmakers are trying to make voting more difficult, especially for minority voters.

"There are a number of measures – a week of cuts to early voting, the elimination of same-day registration – that the public is not in favor of, was not calling for," said Chris Brook, state legal director for the ACLU. "Why then did the legislature decide to go down this route and adopt these very draconian changes?"

The plaintiffs tried to subpoena lawmakers' emails to determine their motives, but the lawmakers refused, arguing that legislative privilege makes their emails confidential.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Joi Elizabeth Peake ruled Thursday that legislative immunity must be evaluated "under a flexible approach" that balances the public's right to know and the legislative process.

"The Court concludes that, while the judicially-created doctrine of 'legislative immunity' provides individual legislators with absolute immunity from liability for their legislative acts, that immunity does not preclude all discovery in the context of this case," Peake wrote.

The judge also ruled that additional categories of documents may be released after further hearings in the coming weeks.

Mike Tadych, who represents WRAL and other media organizations, said he's not aware of a previous ruling on the issue in North Carolina.

"Legislators' email communications with third parties are public records under the law," Tadych said. "Prior to that, there had been some suggestion by both the executive branch and the legislative branch in North Carolina that there was an absolute privilege, that the public records law didn't apply."

A spokeswoman for the state Attorney General's Office, which is defending the lawmakers against the subpoena, said state lawyers are reviewing the ruling and haven't decided on a possible appeal.

Lawmakers in most states have some immunity – North Carolina offers more than most – but if Peake's ruling stands, voters could soon know a lot more about how outside groups influence laws.

"North Carolinians should be able to see the deliberations that their legislators go through when they're considering bills. They should be able to see what legislators were relying upon," Brook said.


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  • Bill Sorenson Apr 3, 2014
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    Funny, the headline today is voter fraud found in NC. Seems to me that only the people that would benefit from comitting fraud would want to impede the process. Voter ID is working.

  • Terry Watts Apr 1, 2014
    user avatar

    View quoted thread

    Ease of obtaining a Free ID aside, and assuming that Voting Fraud is widepsread, I think we need to focus on the Cost (to the taxpayer) of supplying said IDs vs. the benefits of requiring Photo ID at the Voting Booth, i.e. are we will to spend XXX dollars in to prevent XXX number of fraudulent votes?

  • WRAL_USER Apr 1, 2014

    "Voter ID" has nothing to do with preventing voter "fraud". It is only to keep those who typically do not vote for the GOP from voting. This is common knowledge. What we are talking about here is targeted voter suppression, period.

  • WRAL_USER Apr 1, 2014

    If these email are made public all GOP "officials" will be rendered unelectable. I can't wait... :)

  • Pensive01 Apr 1, 2014

    View quoted thread

    The state "may" issue a free ID for those whom do not have one, but gathering together all the documentation to get that "free ID" is usually neither easy nor free. For example, there are still people living whom never had a birth certificate issued because they were delivered by a midwife at home and the only record was the date of birth being written in the Family Bible, which had pages for the sole purpose of recording the births, deaths and marriages, to name just a few items, of that particular family. People in that situation have an extremely hard time just in trying to get an official birth certificate, and that's only one of the obstacles. You might think the example is far fetched, but from the 1960's and earlier, you're likely to find more and more examples of that sort of situation occurring, especially in rural areas.

  • Terry Watts Apr 1, 2014
    user avatar

    View quoted thread

    You were also asked to sign an Affidavit stating that you understood that you could be convicted of a Felony if you lied about your identity...

  • Jack Jones Apr 1, 2014
    user avatar

    First, there haven't been any convictions of so-called "voter fraud" that checking an ID would have prevented. Second, the voter suppression law goes WAY BEYOND voting requirements for ID.

  • casadelrichman Apr 1, 2014

    It always made me uneasy when in went to vote and all i was asked was may name and address. Voter IS is completely reasonable.

  • wilson321 Apr 1, 2014

    MISEEM, they're not asking to see your ballot, just prove your eligible to vote. Hey, I wonder if you have to show an ID to get a SNAP card, an Obama phone, or the rest of the welfare gimmies.

  • Countrylawyer Apr 1, 2014

    There is nothing wrong with determining if a voter is alive or dead. If he is dead, moved, etc., we don't need him (ghost) trying to elect our county, state, federal officials/employees.