Wednesday, June 20, 2007

State Auditor's Personal Agenda

NC State Auditor Les Merritt has been in the news an awful lot lately. He has stood up against HB91 In Person Registration and Voting, which has already passed the NC House and today passed the NC Senate. It had a long road to get there. Let me tell you the story.

The Young Democrats of North Carolina held their first ever day at the legislature a few months back. The goal was to advocate in support of two specific bills, HB91 In Person Registration and Voting and HB291 Sudan Divestment Act. As a group we(yes, I was there) went to the NC State Legislature and met with our respective representatives from around the state as citizen advocates to ask for support of these two bills. The day was a success. Both bills have now passed the House and HB91 the Senate.

HB91 had passed the house on March 29th by a vote of 66-45. It went to committee and then the Senate and finally passed the Senate today 33-15.

This all happened with a lot of partisan politics being levied by Republicans. I will focus on State Auditor Les Merritt. Yes, it's a funny name and maybe a guy with the name More Merritt would have just that. From the State Auditor's website is a description of his job responsibilities.

"Welcome to the North Carolina Office of the State Auditor Home Page. We serve as the watchdog for State government by providing citizens, legislators, and government officials with professional, independent evaluations of the State’s financial records and public program performance. The State Auditor also assesses the security and integrity of the State’s information technology systems, as well as providing monitoring and technical assistance for private non-profit recipients of State grant funds.

The Office of the State Auditor is uniquely empowered to independently evaluate State programs and provide guidance to the legislature on the operation of all aspects of state government, clerks of court, the University system and the community colleges. We will accomplish this in a proactive, nonpartisan manner."

What Les Merritt did this past week was tell the Senate to pull HB91 because of a preliminary report that he said will show why we can not pass legislation to make voting easier and more accessible to all of us. This all goes on while Senator Basnight, Senate President Pro Tem, had his wife of many many years pass away. This brought the Senate to a halt.

The Senate put the bill on hold and called a public meeting yesterday in which State Auditor Les Merritt would bring forth evidence of why this bill should be pulled. Merritt showed and spoke and provided nothing. In fact he back peddled from his request to pull the bill saying he never asked for the bill to be pulled.

Leading up to all this was several exchanges via e-mail. Here are some excerpts:

In a letter on June 15,2007 to State Auditor Les Merritt, Committee Co-Chairs Sens. Dan Clodfelter (D-Mecklenburg) and Tony Rand (D-Cumberland) request that the State Auditor attend the above meeting and present his findings to the Committee. This is pursuant to the Auditor's letter via e-mail on June 5, 2007 that asked them to pull the bill from the Floor.

"We are sure you appreciate how unusual it is for us to receive a specific request that we not take action on a pending bill, which has already passed the House and has received favorable committee action in the Senate, and we therefore trust that you have substantial, credible, and specific evidence to back up the general inferences in your letter." --*From Clodfelter and Rand letter to Merritt*

State Board of Elections Chair Gary Bartlett is also invited to the meeting to provide his response to the, "strategic review" that the Auditor will present. Bartlett's 10-page written response begins by questioning the statutory authority of the Auditor's Office to conduct such a "strategic review." He goes on to dispute the methodology, assumptions, and accuracy of the data in the review. He ends with:

"After reading the report of your "strategic review," it is clear it would have been best for all concerned if your draft recommendations had not been issued until your staff had taken the opportunity to better understand the data it was reviewing and the laws applicable to elections." --*From Bartlett letter to Merritt*

The State Auditor is clearly out of line and incompetent in his understanding of election laws. I did some digging on Les Merritt and found some interesting stuff. Specifically, the State Auditor has himself been audited by the NC SBOE, a few times. Get this, for breaking campaign finance laws. Here's the link to the documents on the SBOE website. Look at 2004, 2002 and 1999. All years in which he has been audited.

What Les Merritt did is typical of this age of Republicans under the Bush Administration. It is part of their National agenda to disenfranchise voters. The less folks that go to the polls the better chance a Republican has of getting into office. Merritt's spokesperson is Chris Mears, former political director for the NC Republican Party and his specialty was voter registration issues. He knows the National agenda and he implemented it here in NC. All this took place after HB91 passed the house. Mears claimed responsibility for raising fears about this bill, Merritt, who is his boss, said it was his idea. More coverage here.

My favorite quote of the day on Les Merritt comes from Democratic State Party Chair Jerry Meek, "Either Les Merritt is incompetent, lacking even a basic understanding of election law, or he's using his position as State Auditor to pursue the partisan agenda of the national Republican Party."

Either way Les Merritt has got to go. Like Vernon Robinson, Les Merritt you have made my hit list. Best watch what you do, because I am now your auditor. Mess up and I will make it known. More to come I am sure!
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