The editorial boards for two of North Carolina’s largest newspapers, the Raleigh News & Observer and the Winston-Salem Journal, have joined the ACLU of North Carolina and our allies in calling on leaders of the General Assembly to release all emails and other correspondence concerning last year’s passage of the worst voter suppression law in the country.
The ACLU of North Carolina and other organizations who are challenging the law in federal court are seeking the communications in order to help determine the extent to which legislators discussed and were aware of the disproportionate impact the voter suppression law would have on African Americans and other minority groups. The new law, for example, shortens early voting in North Carolina by an entire week, which more than 70 percent of African-American voters used to cast their ballot during the 2008 and 2012 elections. The law also ends same-day voter registration, which African-American voters disproportionately relied upon in previous elections as well.
House Speaker Thom Tillis, Senate President pro tem Phil Berger and 11 other Republican legislators who played a role in advancing the legislation are arguing that they don’t have to release their correspondence, claiming “legislative immunity.”
But according to the Winston-Salem Journal, “This isn’t a question of legislative immunity. It’s a matter of open government.”
North Carolina law requires open public meetings and public records so the public can make that very kind of determination about the government that writes their laws.
The public’s specific right to see email and other correspondence produced by governmental bodies was established long ago, and the Journal editorial board has strongly supported the rights of all citizens, regardless of political ideology, to inspect such records, whether they be of legislators or UNC professors.
These 13 legislators assume a dangerous power for themselves. In effect, they contend that they can change laws that go to our most cherished constitutional rights – in this case, the right to vote – and yet they can’t be questioned about it during a judicial hearing.
Such a system isn’t democratic. To the contrary, it smacks of a conceit and arrogance more associated with totalitarian states. The federal court must open those records so North Carolinians can see what the legislators are trying to hide.
The News & Observer editors ask why the legislators are so opposed to transparency:
[T]hose documents might validate the suspicions of many North Carolina residents and the groups that represent them that GOP lawmakers did not set out to improve the election system and make things more efficient. The documents may show an intent to make it more difficult for Democrat-leaning African-Americans, college students or elderly residents to vote.
If such is not the case, these requested documents would prove it, so the resistance of GOP lawmakers and leaders to releasing communications pertaining to this issue is suspicious indeed. What are they afraid of? What is it that they do not want the people to see?
During last year’s legislative session, the lawmakers who pushed new voting restrictions claimed the changes were needed to protect the “integrity” of our elections system. But these latest maneuvers raise even more questions about their true motivations. As the News & Observer put it, “There is only one way to answer critics: Release all emails and documents connected to these laws and let the people judge for themselves.”