Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Disfranchising Voters, the North Carolina Way

If you're a bit fuzzy on exactly how the North Carolina Supreme Court stepped on its collective weenie in disfranchising over 11,000 provisional ballots recently, Jack Betts' editorial in the Sunday Charlotte Observer is must reading.

Betts writes about the outrage of punishing valid voters who were in most instances told by local elections officials that they could cast provisional ballots in the precincts they showed up in. Betts quotes a precedent-setting case from 1948, when Sam Ervin sat on the court and wrote the opinion: "We can conceive of no principle which permits the disfranchisement of innocent voters for the mistake, or even the willful misconduct, of election officials in performing the duty cast upon them. The object of elections is to ascertain the popular will, and not to thwart it. The object of election laws is to secure the rights of duly-qualified electors, and not to defeat them."

But the five Republicans on the state Supreme Court reversed that precedent and decided to punish the voters, thereby punishing all of us.

When this decision was first handed down, we wondered aloud on this blog why the provisional ballots cast out-of-precinct on election day were no good, while the million or so ballots cast state-wide out-of-precinct in "early voting" were okay. Betts also addresses that curious anomaly: "What did the court say about those [early, out-of-precinct] voters? A mere footnote, reprinted here without the statutory boilerplate: 'Absentee voting and election day voting at specially created out-of-precinct voting places are not at issue in the present case.' "

Betts tries to give the five Republican justices the benefit of the doubt, that they wouldn't have reached such a tortured conclusion for purely partisan reasons. But the above footnote from their decision sends a different message: "We want to disfranchise these 11,000 voters and not the other 1 million because we want to."

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