A good summary of what happened this week in the NC General Assembly
Sent in by Diane Amos July, 2018
• North Carolina: It’s truly astonishing how relentless North Carolina Republicans are in their ceaseless zeal to undermine democracy. This week, they called a blitzkrieg legislative session where they swiftly advanced two more measures to entrench their power by unfairly and arbitrarily tilting the playing field to their benefit.
The GOP previously used their illegally gerrymandered legislative supermajorities to put put several power-grabbing constitutional amendments on this fall’s ballot. But ironically, an overlooked provision of state law would have given a Democratic-majority commission the power to write the “ballot captions” that provide short summaries of these amendments.
That little-known panel caught the GOP’s attention, though, when a former longtime lawyer for the legislature who is well-respected by both parties, Gerry Cohen, publicly proposed his own nonpartisan language to describe the amendments on Twitter. Republicans immediately freaked out and called a special session to pass a bill giving the legislature the power to ensure these amendments are captioned with misleading language that only pretends to be bipartisan.
Studies have shown that the way ballot measures are described to voters has a sizable impact on election results. And the GOP’s proposed amendments are no small matter but rather a full-on assault on democracy. One would discriminate against voters of color by requiring voter ID; another would create a sham bipartisan board of elections that the GOP would in fact use to keep blocking Democratic efforts to restore expanded early voting; and the most dangerous would gerrymander the judicial branch and let the GOP pack the state Supreme Court so that current Democratic majority couldn’t thwart their never-ending efforts to seize power in violation of constitutional rights.
This being North Carolina, that wasn’t the only chicanery the GOP had in store this week. Republicans have long had the state’s high court in their crosshairs precisely because it’s sought to rein in their worst abuses. In one recent attempt to tilt the court in their favor after Democrats won a majority on the bench in 2016, the GOP transformed what had previously been nonpartisan elections into partisan races, meaning candidates would be identified with party labels on the ballot.
They also eliminated judicial primaries, forcing all candidates to run together on a single ballot, in the hope that multiple Democrats would split the vote against GOP Justice Barbara Jackson this fall. However, the move utterly backfired: When filing closed, Jackson faced only one Democrat … but also another Republican challenger, Chris Anglin.
So of course, Republican legislators have moved to strip Anglin of his party label.
Anglin had switched his party registration from Democrat to Republican shortly before filing, leading Republicans to accuse him of being a Democratic plant intended to siphon off votes from Jackson to help Democrat Anita Earls prevail. To remove that threat, Republicans just passed a bill that would only show the party affiliation of candidates who had been registered with that party at least 90 days before filing to run, which would force Anglin to run as an unaffiliated candidate.
The arbitrary and blatantly partisan move is just the latest in a long line of changes Republicans have made to give themselves a leg up in court elections. However, the absurdity of trying to change the rules in the middle of an election to counteract an election scheme that backfired on the GOP simply takes the cake.
Gerry Cohen, the former legislative counsel, immediately cast doubt on whether this latest bill was constitutional, arguing that Anglin would have a great chance of convincing a court that his right to due process had been violated by the capricious nature of this change. And if Anglin prevails, his legal battle can only help raise his profile, which is unlikely to help Jackson’s candidacy.
Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper quickly vetoed this latest set of GOP legislation, but Republicans can easily override any vetoes thanks to their gerrymandered majorities—which is exactly how they’ve kept passing their barrage of anti-democratic laws over Cooper’s constant objections. While litigation likely stands a good chance at restoring Anglin’s party label, a lawsuit over ballot captions could result in the GOP’s amendments not appearing on the ballot this fall.