Source: Mother Jones
On the same day North Carolina Republicans finally approved a state budget (after delaying it for 80+ days), they also passed legislation that strips authority from Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper.
The power grab passed by Republicans takes away the governor’s authority to appoint a majority of members to state and county election boards and it also gives the Republican-controlled legislature more control over how elections are run and certified in North Carolina.
In the Tar Heel state, the governor chooses the political makeup of the state and county election boards, which are made up of five members each. The current boards have three Democrats and two Republicans. The governor also appoints the members of the state board and the chair of the county boards, but under Senate Bill 749, those boards would no longer have five members and instead would be split evenly with legislative leaders choosing the members of the state and local boards.
On the surface it may seem fair – an even number of Democrats and Republicans – but unfortunately, as journalist Ari Berman wrote in Mother Jones, it’s actually a recipe for gridlock that could lead to Republicans in the legislature getting massive new powers. Because Republicans were able to gerrymander the legislative maps in 2021, they have a supermajority in both chambers of the legislature. Under this new law, if the state election board deadlocks (because it’s evenly split) and can’t come to an agreement on a winner of an election, the Republican-controlled legislature would have to make the decision.
“That means Republicans could determine the state’s presidential electors and potentially subvert the popular vote winner of the state if a Democrat carries North Carolina,” Berman wrote.
“The legislature now gets to decide the outcome of all of our elections,” Melissa Price Kromm, executive director of North Carolina Voters for Clean Elections, told Berman. “When people vote, is the will of the people still going to be accepted in North Carolina?”
The bill also makes it easier to overturn elections in a different way: the new state board will be expanded from five members to eight, but only five of the eight members (62.5%) would need to vote in favor of redoing an election, compared to four out of five members (80%) under the previous law.
The legislation could also lead to a big decrease in voter access. Local election boards currently control the number of early voting sites in a county, but if the new boards end up in a deadlock then the new law dictates that there would be only one early voting location per county. Cutting back on early voting sites so drastically would dramatically limit the number of early voting locations in the large urban counties that have more Democrats, which would lead to extremely long lines at the polls.
According to WRAL, Wake County had 20 early voting sites in 2020 that brought in 374,000 voters.
“There would only be one early voting location in counties with more than a million people,” said Price Kromm. “Can you imagine how long the lines would be?”
According to Berman, more than half of North Carolinians voted early in 2022 and Democrats were the most likely to cast a ballot by voting early.
The law will also allow Republicans to potentially replace the current state board of elections executive director, Karen Brinson Bell. The state board has until July 15, 2024, to agree on the board’s executive director. If they are unable to come to a decision, Republicans in the legislature would get to choose. That means that Republicans could put someone in a position who is aligned with their electoral goals – just months before the 2024 election.
“North Carolina Republicans are pursuing a multi-pronged strategy of election subversion and voter suppression to gain an electoral advantage in the state,” Berman wrote. “They also passed another bill (SB 747) in August that undercuts Election Day registration, gives voters less time to cast ballots by mail, and expands voter challenges.”
“It’s going to be harder to vote and harder to have your vote counted,” said Price Kromm.
Cooper explained his reasoning for vetoing SB 747 on Aug. 24.
“This legislation has nothing to do with election security and everything to do with Republicans keeping and gaining power. It requires valid votes to be tossed out unnecessarily, schemes to restrict early voting and absentee ballots, encourages voter intimidation and attempts to give Republican legislators the authority to decide contested election results.”
In his veto message, Cooper said the legislation “could doom our state’s elections to gridlock” and is a “serious threat to our democracy, particularly after the nation just saw a presidential candidate try to strongarm state officials into reversing his losing election result.”
Of course, this is nothing new for Republicans in North Carolina. For years, they have attempted to undermine fair elections.
In 2018, the previously Democratic-controlled state Supreme Court blocked attempts to change the makeup of election boards, and voters that same year defeated an amendment – with 61% voting “no” – that would have created a bipartisan board of ethics and elections. Similarly, a law passed by the NCGOP shortly after the Supreme Court tore apart the Voting Rights Act that limited ballot access by adding strict ID requirements, cutting early voting, and ending same-day registration was found by a federal court to target Black voters with “almost surgical precision.”
Now that North Carolina has a Republican supermajority in the legislature and a 5-2 conservative state Supreme Court, Republicans will likely see this as an opportunity to do just about anything they can to cement their grip on political power in the state.