Merrittocracy: The New Red Tape

About 150 onlookers formed a standing room only crowd at a State Legislature meeting room for State Auditor Les Merritt's command performance at the Select Committee on Government and Election Reform. Merritt tried to explain away his sudden interest in State election law as an outgrowth of a strategic audit of DMV. He got off to a reasonable start but seemed to lose vigor and credibility the longer he talked especially during questions from committee members.

State Board of Elections Executive Director Gary Bartlett told the Select Committee that he first became aware of the State Auditor's review when IT staff of both agencies had a joint meeting. He described Merritt's interpretations of data as resulting from misunderstandings of election law and the data itself. SBOE staff questioned the process used to interpret the data as flawed and took exception to the use of the term "fraudulent" for anomalies either in the data or resulting from the Auditor's faulty interpretation of data.

Data for elections is extremely complicated because of the multitude of election laws that have been passed and because statewide computerization has been slow, said SBOE IT Director Bob Rauf. Some county boards of elections did not have their own computers for election data until recent years and data collection and entry methods had varied among county boards. Because of the complexity, Rauf said that he won't let elections personnel run reports until they have been trained for 6 months yet the Auditor's office had run reports with only a fraction of that experience and understanding.

Before March 2006 there was no legislation requiring validation of either a driver's license or social security number. Indeed there is no requirement to have a driver's license. Before 1993 very little information was required or required to be validated. At one point in election history not even date of birth was required. Missing facts were not an indication of fraud.

Elections staff said they had given the entire database to the Auditor's office denying assertions that the SBOE had only provided a sample. SBOE Staff also said that they conduct a monthly clean-up of elections databases and that anomalies are flagged and investigated. The number of errors is small and known, not large and unknown. They specifically looked at and found zero problems with "dead voters".

David Ingram has a decent report in the Charlotte Observer and News & Observer titled:
N.C. auditor retreats from early findings

Merritt says there may be no problem with state's voter rolls

Yesterday's video and a little spin from WRAL and NEWS14

Chris Kromm has a good review at Facing South of the contradictions in Merritt's statements called The great NC voting scandal that wasn't

Here is a taste of Les Merritt from the beginning of the meeting.

Apologies for the short shaky video from the back of the room. Lots of people moving in and out, poor acoustics and chatter from the overflow crowd outside made even looking and listening difficult.

Gary Bartlett made clear that the policy of the State Board of Elections was to make sure not to disenfranchise any voter. He related the story of one man in Eastern North Carolina who called up to say he couldn't vote because local officials told him he was dead, an assertion contradicted by his phone call. Bartlett confirmed that the records showed the man to be dead to which he replied "Does that mean I don't have to pay taxes?". The anomaly was eventually resolved. All part of the due diligence Bartlett described that is undertaken to err on the side of enfranchising voters.

I believe it was Senator Martin Nesbitt who said he had heard nothing in Merritt's testimony to warrant stopping the election process and asked Merritt whether he concurred. This was a more profound question than it seemed. If Merritt's claims of fraud had enough substance to stop the bill then they surely had enough substance to stop the existing election process. Merritt did not answer the question directly but somewhat admitted that he had nothing worth stopping the bill for and expected it to go forward regardless of his actions. It would seem that the perception of urgency was little more than political maneuvering.

The strategic audit of DMV that triggered the SBOE thread was hardly thorough. It was essential a one page finding based on rudimentary number crunching with a one page rebuttal from DMV. By Merritt's own explanation in a Civitas fluff piece:

The strategic auditing process is really a risk-based, proactive analysis. This is a concept that was born in the private sector and entails making decisions to audit the right thing. You only have so many hours to perform an audit; you only have so many hours in a week. So it is prioritizing and planning your audits better, determining what you think needs the most attention by deciding what you think is the highest risk.

It's really not clear what risk Merritt determined needed the most attention and how he determined it. The term "strategic audit" could be interchangeable with the term "witch hunt". Merritt's obsession with federal social security numbers appears to be a political fishing expedition.

One exchange between Merritt and committee members, reported better in other accounts, concerned email communications by staffer Chris Mears which indicated awareness of the political nature of the audit and timing with respect to the status of the Voter Registration bill. Mears is a former NC Republican Party Politics Director who made national news last year for soliciting NC church directories for GOP voter registration in a letter which included this:

...it is imperative that we register, educate and get these potential voters from the pew to the ballot box. To do this we must know who these people are.

I am requesting that you collect as many church directories as you can and send them to me in an effort to fully register, educate and energize North Carolina’s congregations to vote in the 2006 elections.

The North Carolina Republican Party holds your church’s directory in strict confidence. This information will be used for voter registration, education and GOTV purposes only and will not be used to solicit church members for any other reason. They will simply receive generic voter registration and GOTV materials without reference to your church.

Deborah Ross wrapped up by stating that the proposed same-day registration bill had many safeguards. The voter has to show up in person, there are 6 measures to ensure eligibility, 2 felony counts for fraudulent registration and a retrievable ballot to ensure a fraudulent vote is not counted. The measure moved back to the House* Senate floor on a voice vote. Senator Phil Berger cast the only audible "no" vote. (*Clarification: the proposed legislation is a House bill that has passed its third reading in the House and was sent to the Senate)

It was quite a gathering of progressives. Of the people I recognized, BlueNC was represented by posters included LeslieH, Sam Spencer, Gerry Cohen, Jerimee. Also present were Rev William Barber, Rob Schofield, Adam Searing, Louisa Warren, Cy King, David Mills, Ann McCracken, Kerra Bolton, Jerry Meek, Bob Hall, Bob Phillips, Schorr Johnson, Julia Leggett, Paula Wolf plus some representation from the dark side like Dallas Woodhouse and Jeff "burning van" Mixon.

Comments

"strategic witch hunt"...

...a new buzzword for government?

"...i feel that if a person can't communicate, the very least he can do is to shut up." --tom lehrer, january 1965

Best report

Thanks Greg. It's good to have the whole story in one place.

What Utter BS -

risk-based, proactive analysis

fancy word-slinging tap dance. I can do that dance, too. I think I need a cold drink - I feel the steam coming out my ears.

Your report, greg, needs to be printed on the front page of every paper in NC and broadcast on every TV station.

Foul, foul (-)Republicans.

...it is imperative that we register, educate and get these potential voters from the pew to the ballot box. To do this we must know who these people are.

I am requesting that you collect as many church directories as you can and send them to me in an effort to fully register, educate and energize North Carolina’s congregations to vote in the 2006 elections.

Aren't there laws against this type of skulduggery? How would all those churches like to lose that nice 'tax exempt' status?

I would push that and hard.

Damn, those (-R)s to the pits. I, myself, am in at least 2 church directories in NC and I mightily resent - resent - anyone passing out my information for political processes.

I sure wish I could have been there.

Thanks Greg. I can't wait to hear if Leslie picked up anything else.



Robin Hayes lied. Nobody died, but thousands of folks lost their jobs.



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Vote Democratic! The ass you save may be your own.

Merritt bit off more than he could chew,still have concern

Its good that concerned citizens filled the room (weren't there people lined up out the door?).

Thanks Greg for great writeup. The more writing on this the better.
Also, Facing South has done great comprehensive writing.

We should all recognize David Ingram, the reporter at the Charlotte Observer who broke this story. It started with Project Vote getting the April DOJ memo to David and asking him to look into things. Then somehow David found out about Les Merritt's dual involvement.

Still troubling:

1. What is the DOJ up to, and what other states are they messing with?

If our Democratic majority in Congress

can't get to the bottom of that, well, they're just not worth a thing. Even if they can't seem to pin Gonzales to the wall, we need to know if our justice system has been corrupted beyond repair. Are the cronies that Karl Rove replaced the US Attorneys with still doing their dirty work for him? And how many states have had their voter rolls tampered with?

Gerry

Of the people I recognized BlueNC was represented by LeslieH, Sam Spencer, Gerry Cohen, Jerimee.

Greg, I want to clarify that I do not "represent" BlueNC.

-Gerry

Me either.

Heh.

Thanks for making the clarification, Gerry. I think Greg meant to say that he recognized you as someone he's seen commenting here. The same applies to all the other names mentioned.

The truth is, no one actually "represents" BlueNC, with the possible except of the people who originally created the corporation. And even in those cases, all we really represent is what we personally think on any particular mind.

Group blogs are strange animals . . . and it's hard sometimes to talk about all the relationships and lack thereof. And one of the things I'm most proud of is how BlueNC continues to have a strong streak of independent thinking on just about everything.

Point taken, though. And worth reiterating. Neither you nor anyone else noted in the original post "represents" BlueNC.

Sorry

I meant it in the vernacular sense and not literal sense. I was actually going to write something like "representin in da house" but then my brain said it was a select committee so I'd have to include "representin in da senate" but that didn't sound right.

Sorry for any unintended interpretations or consequences. I'll edit.

That was my first ever visit to the Lege, y'all.

It was a very positive experience all around. The abridged story is, I was there for DWNC Legislative Day; amazing! Lt. Gov. Perdue came by to speak. I was awestruck with all the Reps and Senators who came by to say "hello" or to speak. There were state dignitaries moving in and out of the room all morning.

I also went by each office of the Legislators who represent Johnston to see how they planned to vote on H91. I actually got to talk to Rep. James Langdon (R). He isn't my Rep., and I made sure he understood that before he agreed to sit and talk with me, but he was more than happy to invite me into his office. We had a positive exchange; agreed on a few things, presented our reasons/arguments to one another where we disagreed (very congenially, I would add). I was actually able to get his attention with two things: my own son is 20 years old, registered to vote when he turned 18 and doesn't have a driver's license. I told him how that went. [My boy was at SSM and now at Carolina and this fall he's going to Germany. The expense of him being licensed makes no sense in my below median income household because every cent he earns goes toward his education, not an insurance bill, or a car.] I saw a visible raising of the eyebrows when I told Rep. Langdon that. The second thing was the ballots of same-day registrants would be retrievable ballots. He was under the distinct impression that they would not be retrievable. I don't know who told him that but they gave him bogus information. He said he would look into that point. So, it was a positive experience.

Back to the hearing -- The hearing room was PACKED. We were like sardines in the back of the room. That was impressive to me, a Lege novice. I was one of the people who came in the room late. One of those big shakes on the video is no doubt me pushing poor Greg with the door. I saw Melissa Price (YD) and Jennifer Wadsworth (TeenDems) and all the people Greg mentioned, though I only recognized a few then.

I'd would agree with Greg, Mr. Merritt started sure footed but he very quickly stumbled. In the end it was obvious he realized he had no feet up under him to stand on at all. The change in his level of confidence was audible and visible even from my vantage point in the far back corner of the room with my old glasses and poor vision. The committee vote didn't seem to be in doubt after I saw that, as far as I was concerned. Surely the committee members witnessed the change as well. When a few of the notaries I recognized left, I knew it was over.

"They took all the trees and put them in a tree museum Then they charged the people a dollar 'n a half just to see 'em. Don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you've got till it's gone? They paved paradise and put up a parking lot."

Glad you posted this

I wanted to hear what you thought. I'm sure you weren't the only two(you and Greg) who noticed Merritt stumbling.

Robin Hayes lied. Nobody died, but thousands of folks lost their jobs.



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Vote Democratic! The ass you save may be your own.

You didn't say "hi?" :(

Though in all fairness I was running all over the place, and only heard (most of) Merritt's speech.

1 Thessalonians 5:21: But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good.

I always wanted to be the avenging cowboy hero—that lone voice in the wilderness, fighting corruption and evil wherever I found it, and standing for freedom, truth and justice. - Bill Hicks

No ... I'm sorry Sam.

Greg was recording. Introducing myself felt like too many loud words in that moment. But you had flown the coup by the time I turned back around. We'll shake hands next time!! :)

"They took all the trees and put them in a tree museum Then they charged the people a dollar 'n a half just to see 'em. Don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you've got till it's gone? They paved paradise and put up a parking lot."

I See You Noticed That As Well -

Rep. James Langdon (R). He isn't my Rep., and I made sure he understood that before he agreed to sit and talk with me, but he was more than happy to invite me into his office.

I do write to my elected representatives - Mr. Langdon is the only one who has decided to write back.
Because of this, I regularly include him in any 'issue' emails I send.

hmph. It would appear he's one of those (R)s rather than the (-R)s we have the misfortune of having truly 'represent' us, eh?

Bugger all - I'm not moving to Harnett or the back end of Johnston ... ...

Update

When the Senate passed this bill they tacked on an amendment that said:

(b1) Materials in English. – No registration form or ballot used pursuant to this section shall be printed in any language other than English, except as otherwise required by federal law.

Im not familiar enough with Federal Law to know if this is pure BS posturing or an actual move to make the Senate look like a bunch of Republicans. Either way, Thank you to the following legislators who did NOT vote for this.

Senator(s): Berger, D.; Cowell; Dorsett; Graham; Kinnaird; Malone; McKissick; Nesbitt; Shaw

Draft Brad Miller-- NC Sen ActBlue

"Keep the Faith"