The daughter of North Carolina’s supreme court chief justice was prevented from voting because of an apparent snarl at the state Division of Motor Vehicles, an elections official testified via video today in federal court today.
Gary Sims, who is now the director of the Wake County Board of Elections testified that Anna Grace Martin, daughter of Chief Justice Mark Martin, appeared at the local elections office with her father and sister during the early-voting period before the 2014 general election and attempted to vote by absentee ballot. Martin’s name was not listed on the voter rolls for the county.
Sims was the deputy elections director at the time.
Sims testified that Martin said she had registered at a local DMV office, and that her father vouched for the statement. Sims requested that the state Board of Elections research the matter, and received an email from the state office indicating there was no record of the chief justice’s voter registration.
The testimony was heard during a federal trial in which plaintiffs are seeking to overturn North Carolina’s 2013 elections law on constitutional grounds.
“I do believe the voter and the father and sister,” Sims said in an email to state Elections Director Kim Strach that he read during the video deposition shown in court today. Sims went on to express frustration that the DMV tends to not comment when problems arise and had “failed over and over again” with regard to voter registrations.
Based on the statement of Chief Justice Martin, Sims testified that he believed the DMV made a data-entry error.
“If we can’t trust the chief justice of the Supreme Court of North Carolina,” Sims told Strach, “then who can we trust?”
He added, “What does not make headlines is the number of provisional votes denied because of DMV not doing their job.”
Sims testified that the chief justice’s daughter was ultimately not able to vote in the 2014 election. The omnibus election law passed by the Republican-controlled General Assembly and signed into law by Gov. Pat McCrory in 2013 eliminated same-day registration and provisional out-of-precinct voting, among other provisions. Had same-day registration been in place in 2014, the chief justice’s daughter would have been able to vote.
Martin, who was backed by the Republican Party, was appointed chief justice of the state Supreme Court by Gov. McCrory in 2014 and then won election to the seat during the general election in the same year.
The plaintiffs have argued that the provisions of the 2013 election law, which include eliminating same-day registration and shortening the early voting period, disproportionately burden African Americans and Latinos in violation of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
Thomas Farr, a lawyer for the state of North Carolina, sought to minimize the significance of the voters hindered from casting their ballots after problems registering at the DMV. Based on estimates provided by Sims, Farr said, “About one-hundredth of the DMV registrations are reflected in the provisional ballots that you had in the 2014 election.”
Sims responded, “Based on that calculation.”
US District Court Judge Thomas Schroeder also considered requests from the plaintiffs to have several news articles entered into evidence to shed light on the intent of state lawmakers when they passed the legislation. For the most part, he ruled against the plaintiffs.
Schroeder ruled against admitting into evidence an April 10, 2013 article by Michelle Saxton in Lumina News that includes two quotes from Sen. Bill Cook, who represents several coastal counties. In the first, Cook is quoted as saying, “They live at home but they often will vote where they are going to school and their parents keep them on as a tax deduction, and also where they’re going to school and voting they don’t pay squat in taxes.”
The second quote states, “They skew the results in local areas… but they don’t have any skin in the game.”
Schroeder said he was ruling to block the quote because “it’s a little more attenuated” considering that it concerns HB 666, a different piece of legislation than the bill that ultimately became the election law. He also said he doesn’t want state lawmakers to be discouraged from making statements to the press by a concern that anything they say might draw them into litigation.
Republican state lawmakers have refused subpoenas to testify, citing legislative immunity.
Schroeder also declined to admit into evidence an Aug. 21, 2013 blog post by News & Record editorial writer Doug Clark that includes an exchange with Rep. John Blust, a Republican from Guilford County.
The blog post quotes Blust as saying, “I do not agree with every single provision of the election law. It was received by the House only at 6:11 p.m. on the last night of the session for concurrence only. I readily admit that is not good practice. That is something we can be justly criticized for doing.”
The plaintiffs also sought to enter into evidence a newspaper article quoting Sen. Tom Apodaca, a Republican who represents Henderson and other western counties, as saying that the US Supreme Court’s Shelby County v. Holder decision had been expected, as a preface to the statement, “Now we can go to the full bill.”
Schroeder admitted the latter statement because it was corroborated by a video in which Apodaca states, “I think we’ll have an omnibus bill,” but not the former statement referencing the Shelby decision. Notwithstanding the judge’s decision to exclude the Shelby reference from the record, the video was time-stamped June 25, 2013 — the date of the Supreme Court decision.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs said they expect to rest their case tomorrow morning.
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