As county-level elections officials in North Carolina weighed in August their plans for early voting, they faced pressure from Republican operatives who urged them to eliminate Sunday voting, which is popular among black voters, and keep early voting sites to a minimum.
A report by Reuters Thursday surfaced two new emails North Carolina GOPers sent county elections boards — which are each generally made up of two Republican-appointees and one Democrat-appointee — in addition to the emails sent by North Carolina Republican Party executive director Dallas Woodhouse that had been previously reported.
Per the Reuters report:
The same day that Woodhouse sent his Aug. 11 email, Elaine Hewitt, a member of the Rowan County Republican Executive Committee, sent the county elections board two proposed schedules for early voting, both of which included just one site for the first four days and no sites on Sundays.
“With all of the opportunities to vote by mail, early in person Monday – Saturday, and on Election Day, there is no justification for requiring election workers to work on Sundays,” she wrote.
Garry Terry, the chairman of the Republican Party for North Carolina’s First Congressional District, sent an email on Aug. 13 to elections board members in his region, reminding them to act “in the best interest of the Republican Party” by opposing Sunday voting and restricting early voting to one location.
The emails were obtained by an open records request. They made similar arguments found in Woodhouse emails, which attracted national attention for the explicitly partisan rhetoric he used to encourage county officials to limit early voting.
“Our Republican Board members should feel empowered to make legal changes to early voting plans, that are supported by Republicans,” Woodhouse said in an email first reported by the The News and Observer. “Republicans can and should make party line changes to early voting.”
The county officials were debating their plans for the extra week of early voting that was effectively restored by an appeals court decision in late July. The appeals court knocked down a number of provisions in a 2013 state elections law, including its cutbacks to early voting, because the court said the restrictions were passed with the intent to discriminate against minority voters. In doing so, the court also invalidated an amendment to the law that required that counties have the same number of hours of early voting as the previous equivalent election.
That gave the county boards the ability to make drastic cuts to early voting, even with the extra week. Republicans on one county board proposed cutting hours by three-quarters compared to the 2012 election, while the GOP chief of another county board proposed slashing 200 hours compared to the 2012 plan. At the urging of civil rights groups, the state boards ameliorated some, but not all, of the plans that most dramatically reduced early voting opportunities.
Woodhouse, the NC GOP executive director, defended the emails in an appearance on MSNBC soon after the Reuters report was published.
“North Carolina and Republicans and our board of elections have offered more early voting sites and more early voting hours than the Democrats ever did,” he said, before pulling out handcuffs that he said were for Hillary Clinton.
In the Reuters report, a GOP county elections board chairman, Bill McAnulty, said he initially favored a Sunday voting site in his county, but withdrew his support after facing the GOP blowback.
“I became a villain, quite frankly,” McAnulty said. “I got accused of being a traitor and everything else by the Republican Party.”