Politics & Government

In voter ID case, GOP leader says ‘Daily Show’ source a ‘pain in the ...’

In this screen grab from a “The Daily Show” interview, correspondent Aasif Mandvi talks with Don Yelton, a North Carolina Republican and former Buncombe County GOP precinct chair. Yelton made controversial remarks about the intent behind North Carolina’s voter ID law in a Daily Show segment that aired on Comedy Central on Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2013.
In this screen grab from a “The Daily Show” interview, correspondent Aasif Mandvi talks with Don Yelton, a North Carolina Republican and former Buncombe County GOP precinct chair. Yelton made controversial remarks about the intent behind North Carolina’s voter ID law in a Daily Show segment that aired on Comedy Central on Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2013. Courtesy of the Daily Show

A formal federal court ruling’s unusual reference to “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” has left North Carolina Republicans again distancing themselves from a former party official who made racially charged remarks back in 2013 about the state’s voter ID law.

The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals decision, published Friday, quotes former Buncombe County, North Carolina, precinct chairman Don Yelton as saying on the Daily Show three years ago: If the N.C. voter ID law “hurts the whites, so be it. If it hurts a bunch of lazy blacks that want the government to give them everything, so be it.”

Yelton’s interview on the satirical Comedy Central show helped federal judges make the case that North Carolina’s voter ID law is discriminatory.

That prompted a Buncombe County, North Carolina, GOP chairman Nathan West to say Friday that Yelton is “like a chronic case of hemorrhoids: a real pain in the ass that you can never seem to get rid of.”

Yelton could not be reached for comment on Monday afternoon. On Facebook, he posted a response to West saying: “Well, the Republicans again show their stupidity. Frankly Nathan I would keep my mouth shut unless you DON NOT BELIEVE IN FREEDOM OF SPEACH (sic) which it seems that you don't.”

His Facebook post also criticized the court for using a comedy show interview to bolster its case.

During the 2013 “Daily Show” segment about voter ID laws, Yelton was asked whether he was racist, to which he responded, “I’ve been called a bigot before.” But, he said, one of his best friends is a black person. Yelton also criticized college students who are too “lazy” to get a state-issued photo ID to meet the new requirements, and he said the new law would “kick the Democrats in the butt.”

When Yelton used a derogatory term to refer to black people, “Daily Show” interviewer Aasif Mandvi asked Yelton, “You know that we can hear you, right?” and Yelton said, “Yeah.”

Yelton also previously testified at a N.C. General Assembly committee in 2013 that changing state election laws could help Republicans win elections by disenfranchising some Democratic Party “special voting blocks” and that was “that reason for the photo ID” requirement.

Yelton defended his actions at the time but was forced to resign after the Daily Show episode aired and state Republican Party officials said then that Yelton’s views did not represent them. Again, on Friday, Republican officials distanced themselves from Yelton.

West said that Yelton’s comment was hateful and racist.

Once again, our party has to apologize for people like Yelton. Yelton and his cronies are like a chronic case of hemorrhoids: a real pain in the ass that you can never seem to get rid of.

Nathan West, chair of Buncombe County Republicans in North Carolina

West’s response came after the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision used Yelton’s remarks as part of its judgment that changes to election laws made it harder for black people and other traditional Democratic Party supporters to vote. West said Friday he disagreed, though, with the court’s decision.

While many would consider it unorthodox for federal judges to cite a satirical current events TV show in a formal court decision, West’s no-holds-barred response afterward about Yelton adds to the unusual set of circumstances.

“... Once again, our party has to apologize for people like Yelton. Yelton and his cronies are like a chronic case of hemorrhoids: a real pain in the ass that you can never seem to get rid of,” West wrote in a public statement issued Friday on behalf of the Buncombe County Republican Party.

Yelton’s Daily Show comments are just a small part of the 83-page decision judges handed down last week.

The court struck down North Carolina’s voter ID law, saying Republican lawmakers used “surgical precision” to rewrite election laws, with the intent of disenfranchising minority voters. The court ruling points out that Republican lawmakers used voting history and statistics to determine how black people voted and then passed laws to make it harder for them.

The contentious voter ID law in North Carolina made several changes to elections, including eliminating same-day voter registration, reducing early voting periods, eliminating one-click straight-party ballots, and mandating that voters have certain forms of photo ID at the polls.

Correction: This story has been corrected to reflect that the court used Yelton’s “Daily Show” interview to“provide some evidence of the racial and partisan political environment” in which state lawmakers passed the voter ID law. The federal court ruling found that Yelton’s statements, alone, “do not prove that any member of the General Assembly necessarily acted with discriminatory intent.”

Anna Douglas: 202-383-6012, @ADouglasNews

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