The North Carolina NAACP has filed a complaint with the state Board of Elections and the Guilford County district attorney against the campaign of N.C. Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger (R) over a TV and internet ad that could mislead viewers on the status of the state's voter ID requirement.
Under a sweeping election law passed last year by the Republican-controlled legislature and signed into law by Gov. Pat McCrory (R), voters will have to show a photo ID beginning in 2016. But that's not the impression some might get from watching the ad, which states:
You need a photo ID to drive, cash a check, even to buy medicine. Shouldn't you show a photo ID to vote? Liberals like Obama and Kay Hagan say no. Phil Berger fought the liberals and won. Now, thanks to Phil Berger, voters must show a valid photo ID to vote.
Berger's ad does not qualify that the photo ID requirement will not be in effect for this election. The ad first began airing a year ago, but the NAACP said it just became aware of it when the 30-second spot aired recently on television in Guilford County and other areas.
Watch the ad here:
"It's not liberal. It's not conservative. It's a lie," Rev. Dr. William Barber, president of the NC NAACP, said during a Sept. 16 press conference about the ad.
The complaint cites the section of North Carolina law that says any person who in connection with an election directly or indirectly misrepresents the law to the public through any means of communication "where the intent and the effect is to intimidate or discourage potential voters from exercising their lawful right to vote" shall be guilty of a Class I felony, which carries a prison sentence of three to 12 months.
Al McSurely, an attorney for the NC NAACP, said he believes the ad in question "was intentionally designed and vetted by various media types in the extremist wing of the Republican Party to be part of a national strategy" to reduce turnout, especially of low-information voters. He said he would like to see Berger run a corrective ad clarifying that voters do not need to present an ID to cast a ballot in this year's election.
The controversial ad was paid for by Berger's campaign committee, whose top contributors include Duke Energy, Nationwide, Bank of America, and the N.C. Republican Party, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics.
The complaint over Berger's ad is the latest salvo in an ongoing political war between the NC NAACP and legislative leaders. The NC NAACP is challenging North Carolina's election law in the federal courts on the grounds that it discriminates against African Americans and other minorities. Besides requiring voter ID beginning in 2016, the law ends same-day registration, straight-ticket voting, and out-of-precinct voting on election day. Last month a federal judge rejected the NAACP's request for an injunction to block the law from being enforced for this year's election, but the group is appealing to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, which will hold a hearing on the matter in Charlotte, North Carolina on Sept. 25.
Meanwhile, a judge in Wake County, North Carolina ruled last week that the constitutional rights of a man participating in a peaceful NC NAACP-led Moral Monday protest were violated when he was arrested inside the legislature. In response, the acting Wake County district attorney has said he plans to review hundreds of Moral Monday arrest cases.
This is not the first time the NC NAACP has taken action over misleading communications to voters during an election: In 2008, after a Facing South investigation revealed that a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit called Women's Voices Women Vote was behind controversial robo-calls made to African-American residents of North Carolina that contained confusing information about voter registration status, the NC NAACP and Democracy North Carolina filed a complaint with the State Board of Elections. The Democratic group, which was backing Hillary Clinton in that year's presidential race, was eventually fined $100,000 by the state.
The NC NAACP has produced its own video to inform people of the requirements under the new election law and is sharing it through social media. Watch it here:
UPDATE: The day after the NC NAACP filed its complaint, the Berger campaign responded with a letter to the state election board calling the complaint "groundless, riddled with false statements, unsupported by the facts, and ... principally an effort to generate publicity by and for the complainants." The letter also says Berger instructed his campaign to modify the ad to specify that voters won't be required to show photo ID until 2016. The new version of the ad appears on the Berger campaign website below text that says, "Watch the TV spot that Rev. Barber and President Obama don't want you to see" -- and above a request for contributions to keep the ad on the airwaves.