This article first appeared on www.nccivitas.org as part of the Toxic Agenda Series. The title of the series is: Toxic Agenda: What the Left Really Wants for North Carolina is a new series of articles from the Civitas Institute. Civitas believes that “While largely out of power for the last several years, North Carolina is just one election away from once again seeing the liberal Left in control. This series examines what the Left desires to impose on North Carolinians and the harmful effects of their policies.”
Toxic Agenda: Elections in Crisis Part I
There is perhaps no other policy and legal area that exposes the Left’s toxic agenda more than election laws and voting procedures.
As North Carolina’s political-Left continues its march toward their goal of universal voter registration and universal voting with little or no restrictions or security, it is proud and extremely protective of what it has accomplished in the last 25 years. The Left will do and say almost anything to stop anyone from inserting commonsense security, of any sort, into the election process.
If the question is: What does North Carolina’s political-Left really want when it comes to elections and election policy? The answer is: It wants the same thing that Leftists always want; total control and power. Total control and power over legislation governing elections and total control and power over any administrative procedures developed to guide every aspect of voting, especially the determination of who can vote, when they can vote and which votes count.
Control of Elections: The History
The desire for total control over elections in North Carolina is not something the Left openly promotes, however. They also do not advertise that they have largely had singular control of the election process in North Carolina since the 1800s when Democrats in the legislature controlled almost every level of government, including county commissions. They could exert this control over local governments because the Government Act of 1877 provided that the legislature would appoint justices of the peace, who would then select county commissioners, giving the Democrats in the legislature control of the commissions, and thus of much of the rest of local government.
For a short period of time in the 1890s, however, the Democrats’ control was challenged. The Republican Party (biracial in makeup, and home to most black voters in North Carolina) and populists (made-up of many of the state’s poor white citizens and farmers) joined together to form a “fusion” movement that agreed to challenge Democrats in their separate conventions. In 1894, Fusion candidates won a majority in the legislature and won both U.S. Senate seats.
During the Fusion era, African Americans voted and held elective and appointed office throughout North Carolina. The Fusion plan worked again in 1896, when the coalition kept control of the legislature and elected Daniel Russell, a Republican governor. Russell, however, would be the last Republican governor in North Carolina until James Holshouser was elected in 1973.
The Progressive’s campaign effectively disenfranchised black voters and weakened the Republican Party to the point that it took the GOP 112 years to gain control of both houses of the General Assembly.
Challenging the Left’s Control
The first attempt to challenge the Left’s control over election policy began in earnest in 2011, after Republicans won control of the state legislature, for the first time in 2010. Democrats controlled our state’s elections for well over a century, writing and rewriting the state’s election laws to benefit and sustain their majorities. The change in legislative majorities was the first real threat to the Left’s control over elections.
After gaining majorities in both Houses of the legislature, Republicans began to make moves to reform North Carolina’s election system with commonsense ideas that would help protect voter integrity. In 2013, they passed comprehensive election reform legislation entitled the Voter Information Verification Act (VIVA). VIVA was the first comprehensive updating of our election laws in decades and included reforms such as: a voter ID requirement, elimination of same day registration (SDR), elimination of voting out of precinct on election day and shortening the in-person early voting period (in order to assist the county boards in preparation for election day).
The modern-day Left in North Carolina has grown into a political powerhouse. At any given time, there are more than 150 organizations in our state working on a range of leftist issues and agendas. At the center of the Left’s movement are groups that put an emphasis on elections, voter registration and get-out-the-vote (GOTV) activities. The organizations are the same groups that are involved in litigating many reforms such as voter ID. At the forefront of this fight are groups such as Democracy NC, League of Women Voters, NC Common Cause and the NAACP-NC. Then there are the groups that focus entirely on voting and election law such as North Carolina Voters for Clean Elections and North Carolina Center for Voter Education.
In addition to the voting groups, North Carolina’s leftist network includes groups like Planned Parenthood, a pro-abortion nonprofit, labor unions such as the AFL-CIO and the North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE), legal groups such as the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) and American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina (ACLU-NC), environmental groups like the Sierra Club and the North Carolina League of Conservation Voters. The fascinating thing is that these groups and many more joined with the voter/election groups in the past seven years to fight the introduction of common-sense election reforms. The activist groups organized rallies and Moral Monday events and staged sit-ins at the legislative building.
The Left claims they only want fair and honest elections. Their actions, however, reveal the truth. The laws they enacted and the rules they implemented prior to 2011 have little to do with fairness. Some voters may be required to show an ID to vote while others are not. Many voters have their driver’s license numbers or social security numbers verified when they register to vote, but if the numbers can’t be verified, the voter can register nevertheless. Some voters are made to go through an address verification process while others do not. The voters who don’t go through the verification process often vote and have their votes counted even before the Boards of Elections can verify their addresses. Many of these voters fail verification, yet their votes are counted all the same.
After the 2008 Presidential Election the North Carolina State Board of Elections (SBE) published a report on Same Day Registration (SDR) to the North Carolina General Assembly. The report gave resounding praise for the SDR process while giving only cursory attention to the real problems they encountered. Namely, there was an egregious flaw in the SDR process in 2008.
The flaw continues today: Voters who register to vote and vote at the same time during SDR, bypass the necessary address verification process which all other voters must undergo when registering to vote.
The verification process consists of local boards of elections mailing voter cards to newly registered voters. If the card is returned as “undeliverable,” then the local BOE checks their records, makes any necessary changes, and mails another card. If that card is returned, then the voter registration is placed in “denied” status.
SDR voters are not required to successfully complete the verification process because there is not enough time to complete the process before certification of the election. So, there are thousands of SDR voters who have had their registrations either removed, denied or put into inactive status – but only after their votes were counted and the election certified. Once an election is certified, the votes stand.
In the 2008 SDR report, the SBE proposed that “As long as the second notice is returned prior to canvass, then the one-stop registrant’s registration can be denied and their in-person absentee ballot appropriately disapproved.” Since the 2009 report, however, rules have changed and local boards are no longer required to deny a one-stop voters’ registration nor do they require that ballots be disapproved if their verification mailing is returned as “undeliverable”.
In the SDR report, the SBE suggested that the problem of not being able to verify voter registrations for SDR voters was probably due to a very mobile society. The report suggested that voters whose verification mailings were returned as “undeliverable” were people who moved within 30 days of registering to vote.
The SBE went on to suggest that lawmakers needed to “Enact legislation to address same-day registrants who legally register to vote during one-stop and who subsequently move within 30 days of an election, or shortly thereafter, before the mail verification process can be completed (specifically college students and active military families).”
Of course, this all sounds very good on its face. We all want to look out for the military, after all. In fact, however, the SBE’s excuses are unfounded. There is no evidence in the SDR report to suggest that most (or any for that matter) of the non-verified voters are members of the military or students. Nor is there evidence that mobility was the reason for voter cards being returned to local BOE’s as “undeliverable.”
Hypocrisy of the Left
Time and time again leftists are diametrically opposed to the views of the majority of North Carolina’s voters.
Consider that in December 2016, the General Assembly approved legislation to create a bipartisan SBE and merge it with the State Ethics Commission and Lobbying Commission. The new board would have been comprised of eight members, four Democrats and four Republicans.
Gov. Roy Cooper immediately filed suit on the grounds that the law was unconstitutional in that it infringed on the governor’s executive powers. The Superior Court ruled in favor of the governor only on the provision of the law dealing with the appointment of board members.
When the General Assembly voted to change the board’s makeup so that an equal number of Democrats and Republicans would serve the state in a bipartisan capacity, Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, accused Republicans in the state legislature of rigging the State Board of Elections and limiting a person’s right to vote.
The North Carolina Supreme Court agreed with the Superior Court and sent the case back to Superior Court. The Republicans went back to the drawing board and in February 2018, the General Assembly passed House Bill 90. HB 90 again changed the make-up of the SBE. The newest legislation would have the governor appoint four voters from each of the two major parties and one unaffiliated voter as members to the SBE. While Cooper filed a new lawsuit over the newest restructuring measure, he has now appointed all nine board members.
Most importantly however, while he sued the legislature, Gov. Cooper refused to appoint SBE board members, leaving the board vacant for nearly 300 days. In so doing, he left state employees at the office of the SBE to administer the 2017 elections without board members.
How do North Carolinians feel about these changes?
The February 2018 Civitas poll reveals that 79 percent of likely North Carolina voters want the composition of the State Elections Board to be equally divided between Democrats and Republicans. It appears citizens have a different definition of fairness than Gov. Cooper.
North Carolina’s initial attempt to reform election law took place in 2011, when the state legislature voted in favor of a voter ID law. It should be noted that, at the time of the voter ID law’s passage, Republicans did not hold veto-proof majorities during the tenure of Democratic Governor Beverly Perdue. Perdue vetoed the legislation and later declined to run for reelection.
In 2013, after the election of Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, the legislature approved a new voter ID law in a comprehensive election reform bill, titled the Voter Information Verification Act (VIVA).
The fight over voter ID was vicious. The Left pulled no punches when they attacked elected officials and others who believed that voters should show identification before voting. Voter ID advocates were called racist, bigots and Jim Crow advocates and VIVA was referred to as the voter suppression law or the “monster law.”
In a 2015 interview with PBS, William Barber, former president of the NAACP-NC and mouthpiece of the activist-Left in North Carolina, suggested that African-Americans had less voting rights in North Carolina with a voter ID requirement than any time in the last 50 years.
“It’s a crime that we stand here 27 days after the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Voting Rights Act and we have less voting rights today.”
Damon Circosta, in a 2011 op-ed for the Wilmington Star News, attacked Republicans for a war on voting. Circosta, recently appointed to the SBE by Gov. Cooper as the board’s “unaffiliated” member, is currently the executive director of the A.J. Fletcher Foundation.
The courts were not immune from political activism and over the top rhetoric either. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge James Wynn, one of a panel of three judges, hearing a case brought by the League of Women Voters and the NAACP, made it clear that he sided with the leftist organizations who were seeking to overturn a decision made by U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Schroeder from the United States District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina. Schroeder had denied a request to issue a preliminary injunction for the November general election. In the hearing Wynn went on a rant about out-of-precinct voting. He decried the fact that the state wouldn’t let “Grandma vote anywhere she wanted to.”
Ultimately, even after watering down the voter ID proposal, Republicans lost the fight after years of legal battles, but not before the law was implemented for the 2014 elections. The watered-down version of the voter ID legislation allowed for “reasonable impediments.” A voter’s excuse for not having a voter ID could be blamed on lack of transportation, disability or illness, lack of birth certificate, work schedule, family responsibilities or lost or stolen ID.
The Left accused Republicans of voter suppression and warned of massive voter disenfranchisement, but after all the votes were counted in 2014, the accusations proved to be nothing more than ugly fabrications, as voter turnout was up among the groups the Left and Democrats claimed the law targeted.
Indeed, the November 4, 2014 election set a record for voter turnout in North Carolina. In November early voting increased by 20 percent over the 2010 midterms, and rose by 45 percent among blacks. In the 2014 May Primary, overall turnout was up 5 percent compared to the 2010 Primary, and turnout surged almost 30 percent among African-American voters.
Again, recent poll results show North Carolinians want photo ID legislation.
In May 2017, Civitas polled the question, “Would you support or oppose an election law that would require voters to show a valid photo ID before casting their ballot?” Sixty-eight percent of respondents said that they would support the requirement while 31 percent said they opposed the idea. The results for the voter ID question were consistent with all previous polls Civitas conducted since 2011.
In the February 2018 Civitas Poll voters were asked whether they would “support amending the State Constitution to allow the state legislature to require all voters present a valid photo ID in order to cast a ballot?” Included in the poll question was the statement: “The state would provide a free ID to those who can’t afford one.” Sixty-nine percent of respondents said that they would support a constitutional amendment, while only 27 percent opposed an amendment.
North Carolina’s election system has become a jumble of complicated and sometimes contradictory laws and administrative decisions made by the State Board of Elections often with little or no regard for the legislature. And, according to the Left, that’s exactly as it should be. There is nothing the political-Left fears more than a rule or law that cannot be manipulated or exploited.
In 2013 Republicans attempted to introduce commonsense reform that would restore integrity into the election process. Subsequent court battles have pushed back the most effective reforms and revealed the true goals of the Left.
In part two of Toxic Agenda – Elections in Crisis, we will explore how the Left uses the courts and the State Board of Elections to enhance their power and control over North Carolina’s voting process.