North Carolina Republicans just can’t stop messing with election rules in a brazen bid to give themselves more power—and voters less.
On Tuesday, the state House voted to override a veto by Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, of a bill that would give the GOP more control than Democrats over elections in perpetuity.
The state Senate passed its override vote Monday, meaning the bill is set to go into law next week. Cooper has said he’ll challenge it in court.
Before we get into the details, it’s worth noting a key reality that most news accounts are omitting — one that further calls into question the new law’s democratic legitimacy: Were it not for their gerrymandering of state legislative seats, which was found to be racially discriminatory, Republicans likely wouldn’t have had the super-majorities needed in both houses to override Cooper’s veto.
In other words, this week’s power grab was directly enabled by an earlier one.
Republicans passed their first version of the election law in December, and it was signed by the outgoing governor, Republican Pat McCrory. Vox called the law a “shocking power grab,” and Slate labeled it an “attack on democracy.”
After Cooper challenged the measure, the state Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional.
Both that law and the new one end the state’s century-old practice of giving the governor’s party a majority on both the state board of elections and local elections boards. Instead, the parties would be evenly split, and control of the boards would alternate between the parties from one year to the next.
But Republicans would chair the boards in even-numbered years—which just happen to see major elections—and Democrats only in odd-numbered ones.
Republicans say the new law fixes some of the problems that led the old one to be struck down. But the changes are relatively minor. For instance, the new law would allow the state board to act with support from a simple majority, while the old one required support from six of eight members.
Partisan control of the election boards is no minor issue in North Carolina. Local boards have a lot of authority to set election rules, including establishing hours and locations for early voting. Last year, the head of the state GOP urged local boards, then under Republican control, to restrict access to early voting in order to benefit the GOP, and several did so.
The effort to gain power over election administration is just the latest in a long series of efforts over recent years by state Republicans to manipulate election rules in order to maintain power in a state whose demographics changing fast. In 2013, North Carolina passed the nation’s most restrictive voting law, which was found by a federal court to have targeted blacks “with almost surgical precision.” The state loosened laws on money in politics, giving massive influence to super-wealthy donors like Art Pope, the multimillionaire owner of a chain of discount stores, who served as McCrory’s top economic adviser.
Then there was the redistricting plan, found by a federal court to be an unconstitutional racial gerrymander—leading a federal judge to order the state to hold new state legislative elections this year. Under the racially discriminatory map now declared illegitimate, Republican Senate candidates won 55 percent of the vote and ended up with 70 percent (35 out of 50) of the seats. In the House, they won 52 percent of the vote and ended up with 62 percent (74 out of 120) of the seats.
To override a veto from the governor, North Carolina requires a super-majority, which is defined as 60 percent of the votes.