North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D)
North Carolina: In late January, North Carolina’s Supreme Court delivered a major victory for voting rights when it struck down a law that Republican legislators had passed in 2017 to remove the Democratic majority from state and county election boards. This law sought to create new boards with an equal number of members from each party under the guise of partisan fairness, but its real purpose was to give Republicans veto power over Democratic efforts to undo GOP voter suppression efforts put in place when Republicans held majorities. (Funny how they didn’t have a problem with that setup back then.)
Republicans had intended this law to create partisan deadlocks so that Democrats couldn’t overturn GOP cuts to early voting and restore polling places that had been removed from Democratic-leaning places like college campuses and heavily black neighborhoods. Most dangerously, this law would have had counties default to the statutory minimum of a single early voting location if a county board couldn’t agree on a full-fledged early voting plan. That would have enabled Republicans to force heavily populated Democratic counties to rely on just one early voting site, producing hours-long voting lines that discourage voter turnout.
This recent ruling marks the second time that a state court has thrown out this attempted Republican power grab. The GOP initially passed a law to achieve the same ends shortly after Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper defeated McCrory in 2016, but a court held that if Republican legislators had the authority to make appointments to the boards, as they sought, that would violate the separation of powers. The GOP’s second effort attempted to circumvent this ruling by forcing the governor to appoint an equal number of members of both parties from a list of names selected by the parties themselves, but the state Supreme Court decided that this also ran afoul of the separation of powers.
Importantly, this latest decision, which fell along party lines, was only possible because Democrats gained a one-seat majority on the state Supreme Court in 2016. Unfortunately for Cooper, the court did not immediately lift a stay that has prevented the governor from making new appointments to the state board. However, this ruling will almost certainly mean that Cooper can finally appoint a Democratic majority ahead of the 2018 elections and use that power to expand access to voting.
The decision concerning the elections boards wasn’t the only recent court victory for voting rights in North Carolina. Separately, a federal district court also issued an injunction against a GOP-backed law that entirely eliminated primaries in judicial races for 2018. Republicans had previously made these races partisan in order to win more power, and eliminating the primary would have resulted in all candidates competing on a single ballot in November with only a plurality required to win; this would greatly benefit incumbents with existing name recognition.
We have long maintained that judicial elections are bad for democracy and impartial justice, but if they do take place, they must at least be conducted in a fair manner. Now, thanks to the courts themselves, they will be, and with a key state Supreme Court race coming up this fall, that’s especially important. Republican incumbent Barbara Jackson is the only high court justice up for re-election, and this ruling gives Democrats a much more equitable shot at prevailing by letting them consolidate behind a single nominee.
Gerrymandering: In an astonishing display of candor, NRCC chair Steve Stivers said what Republicans aren’t supposed to say about partisan gerrymandering. When asked why he thought the GOP might still maintain its House majority in November despite a Democratic-favoring midterm environment, Stivers said the quiet part aloud:
But the first reason, he says, is a factor everyone knows about, but which Republicans rarely tout out loud: “I think it starts with the congressional lines,” Stivers said, pointing to the successful gerrymandering after 2010. Later, asked whether that validates Democrats’ argument that Republicans have tilted elections to their advantage, Stivers shrugged off the criticism: “You can say that, but the people elected them.”
With the Supreme Court poised to possibly impose limits on partisan gerrymandering for the first time in several pending cases, Republicans in many states have been careful to avoid admitting the maps are gerrymandered in their favor.
But this revealing statement from Stivers isn’t unprecedented from a prominent Republican. Almost immediately after the 2010 midterm wave swept Republicans into power in states across the country, giving them control over redistricting, top GOP strategists touted how gerrymandering would preserve their House majority in 2012. Indeed, we have previously demonstrated that these Republicans were in all likelihood correct, since gerrymandering probably cost Democrats the House that year. And given the strong degree to which congressional maps still favor Republicans in 2018, it could very well do so again this November.
The remainder of this article describes rulings in Pennsylvania, Virginia, Massachusetts, Florida and Maine that do have ramifications here in North Carolina. Click HERE to read it.