This weekend, the Charlotte Observer delved deeper into the story we covered last Friday, raising questions about why the N.C. State Auditor's office raised fears of "voter fraud" minutes before a state senate committee was poised to vote on a bill for same-day voter registration:
Supporters of a bill to make voter registration easier in North Carolina say they're perplexed by an unusual attempt by State Auditor Les Merritt to delay it.
"That's as odd as a tutu on a hog," said Sam Watts of the nonpartisan N.C. Center for Public Policy Research.
Merritt's office, responsible for auditing N.C. agencies, began reviewing voter registration rolls in January to try to ferret out irregularities. Citing unspecified "sensitive information," Merritt persuaded lawmakers to sideline the voting bill this month, minutes before a planned vote. [...]
"We know that this was a very unusual situation," [state auditor] spokesman Chris Mears said, "but we thought it was necessary because of the information we discovered and also the timing. The bill was within hours of passing both houses of the General Assembly."
A later column by the Observer's Jack Betts points to some of the other peculiar issues surrounding the case, for example:
* The state auditor had never told the State Board of Elections it was conducting a "strategic review" of voting files;
* The Republican-led auditor's office has no expertise on voting issues -- as revealed in many of the flawed assumptions of their report (still not made public) which alleged fraud
* The auditor's "review" happened to coincide with another review by the Department of Justice, at the request of DOJ staff Jack Tanner and Robert Popper -- Civil Rights Division staff that have drawn widespread scrutiny for their role in pushing "voter fraud" as an issue
As State Board of Elections chair Gary Bartlett (a Democrat) argued in a 10-page letter (pdf), these and other questions have made questions about politicization of the voting query inescapable:
"I further believe your draft report would have been more accurate and complete if your office had accepted our offer to fully brief your staff on the controlling state and federal election laws and the data you were trying to review. This is a particular concern at this time when the national press is reporting serious issues about the politicization by the United States Department of Justice of the voter registration process. We do not want that kind of problem in our state or for the public to conclude there is such a problem."