Essentially, North Carolina has been operating for the last 2000+ days with illegitimately elected legislators acting like authoritarians. So bad are the state’s voting-district laws, they’ve been called ‘the worst in the world.’
The News&Observer headline was shocking: “North Carolina is no longer classified as a democracy.” Having studied gerrymandering, I knew conditions were extreme in our state, but I didn’t realize matters had come to this sad point.
North Carolina scored so badly (7 out of a possible 100) with the Electoral Integrity Project (EIP) that it declared the state’s voting-district boundaries to be the worst in the world—in fact, the worst EIP has ever analyzed. That means North Carolina ranks below Iran and Venezuela.
Essentially, the state has been operating for the last 2000+ days with illegitimately elected representatives. And they’re not anxious to give up that power, despite recent rulings against them by the U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS).
The first ruling came on May 15, when SCOTUS declared the Republican effort to revive the state’s strict voter-I.D. law discriminated against Black voters. Just one week later, SCOTUS ruled the Republicans had used race as a consideration when drawing up the state’s House districts. Then, on June 5, SCOTUS upheld a lower-court ruling that Republican lawmakers had created 9 state Senate districts and 19 House districts specifically to dilute the influence of Black voters. But in this instance, SCOTUS sent the case back to the lower court to determine whether special elections are necessary.
Those three rulings alone should have been enough to at least moderate Republicans in the North Carolina General Assembly (NCGA). But they weren’t. Immediately after the Supreme Court’s June 5 ruling, Governor Roy Cooper called for a special session to redraw the state’s legislative maps. But on June 8, Republican leaders defied both the NC Constitution and SCOTUS and canceled the special session.
House Majority Leader John Bell and Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger have refused to release from committee two bipartisan bills that call for nonpartisan redistricting. We need those bills, HB200 and SB209, to be sent for open debate and a vote.
The United States is the only country whose elected officials are allowed to draw their own voting maps. But the problem extends beyond the inequalities created by gerrymandering. North Carolina also does poorly on measures of legal framework and voter registration, and that undermines the actual functioning of the state.
Ours is a 50/50 state where Democrats hold a slight majority of the registered voters. One might assume the legislature would be divided about 50/50 as well. But in fact, Republicans have a huge majority, giving them veto-proof control, while Democrats have zero legislative power. As a result, lawmakers aren’t beholden to their voters, because the voters didn’t really choose them. The legislators chose their voters and are therefore beholden to only their party bosses.
In a functioning democracy, citizens’ rights aren’t limited by their birth identities. But North Carolina limited them when the legislature passed HB2, restricting the rights of the state’s 38,000 transgender citizens. Additionally, Blacks and Latinos were targeted with restrictive voting laws, and women’s rights to act as autonomous citizens have been constrained.
A country that tries to bring democratic elections to some of the most challenging places on earth—Afghanistan, Egypt, Lebanon, South Africa, to name a few—has a state whose voting laws are so bad it can’t even be called a fully functioning democracy.
After former governor Pat McCrory was defeated, the GOP forced through legislation to limit Governor-elect Cooper’s future powers. When the lame-duck governor signed those bills, he essentially acted as an authoritarian leader in a third-world country.
There is both great irony and reason for concern in what’s happening not just in our state but across America. A country that tries to bring democratic elections to some of the most challenging places on earth—Afghanistan, Egypt, Lebanon, South Africa, to name a few—has a state whose voting laws are so bad it can’t even be called a fully functioning democracy.
So, how can we claw our way back to democratic integrity?
We start by insisting that the nonpartisan redistricting bills HB200 and SB209 are brought to the floor for debate and then working to get a final law passed. This will bring about a more fair-and-balanced legislature. Next, we push for new laws to make voter registration and access to polls as easy as possible for all citizens. Finally, we pressure our elected officials to respect the rule of law. We must remind them regularly that they work for us and not themselves or their personal agendas. Otherwise, any hope we have of restoring integrity to our state government will be lost.
Related: When gerrymandering runs wild