Elections bill hardly educational

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 7, 2013

RALEIGH — I sometimes think that one of the legal grounds for overturning a piece of legislation ought to be when the bill title is a lie.
If that were the case, the omnibus bill that state lawmakers passed overhauling how elections are held in North Carolina would be in trouble.
The bill’s long title begins, “An act to restore confidence in government by establishing the voter information verification act to promote the electoral process through education …”
Let me just say that I tend to doubt the legislation, which will create one of the strictest voter photo ID laws in the country and shorten the early voting period, will do much to restore confidence in government.
That, of course, is my opinion.

The lie in the bill title can be found in the reference to promoting the electoral process through education. The language appears to refer to provisions requiring the State Board of Elections and counties to distribution information about the photo ID requirements.
But you cannot promote the electoral process through education while passing laws that limit the amount of information provided to voters.
The 49-page bill that legislators approved in the final days of the legislative session curtails voters’ education in several ways.
It drops the state’s model Stand-By-Your-Ad law, which required candidates themselves to clearly state that their committees paid for ads shown on television or broadcast on radio. The same law required similar statements by political party officials or political committee officials when they ran ads not sponsored by the actual candidate committees.
In the law’s place will be old requirements of barely noticeable pictures and statements at the bottom of the ads.
Also, SuperPACs and other groups independent of candidates will no longer be required to disclose their biggest donors in print media advertisements.
Finally, a state distributed voter guide will disappear once the money already set aside for it dries up.

Words have meaning, and those words only add up to the definition of “education” in some Orwellian world where up is down and everything is askew.
In fact, if state legislators had been interested in educating voters, or in restoring confidence in government, they could have used the omnibus elections bill to revamp financial reporting requirements for candidates and committees so that more information reached voters sooner.
Instead, they decided that kind of thing needed more study.
Not so long ago, before the days of SuperPACs and unlimited corporate spending on political campaigns, when pesky donor limits had meaning, the critics of donor limits often proposed more transparency as an alternative to the limits.
Let the donors give what they want, but ensure that their identities and the amounts are quickly reported to the public, the argument went.
Now that they have largely gotten their way with the Citizens United court ruling and the use of the shadow, independent groups, isn’t it interesting how the transparency seems to be disappearing too?
Maybe that is the education referenced.
Scott Mooneyham writes about state government for Capitol Press Association.