A Democrat and a Republican agree on NC and voting laws

Published March 18, 2021

By Rick Henderson

Editor's note: The following column appeared in the Wednesday, March 11th edition of The News and Observer. It is reprinted by permission of Rick Henderson, who also wants it corrected that he is registered Unaffiliated. 

By Bob Hall and Rick Henderson

We are liberal and conservative leaders with decades of experience at policy organizations. We often disagree, but after looking at data from the 2020 election, we agree on this: North Carolina’s unique mix of procedures made voting easy and cheating hard, and helped produce a record turnout despite a deadly pandemic.

Republican legislators in many states are now pushing a host of voting restrictions under the banner of stopping fraud. Meanwhile, Democrats in Congress are backing a massive election bill that would overrule local laws under the banner of stopping disenfranchisement.

 We disagree on parts of the massive HR1, but agree that, as the U.S. Constitution says, state legislatures are the proper arena to make changes. It’s unfortunate that claims of fraud, and voter suppression, have become weaponized for partisan gain because real problems should be objectively examined and addressed.

We hope our lawmakers in Raleigh – especially leaders of the Republican majority who set the agenda – will avoid hyperbole and look at the facts as they consider election changes.

The numbers show that voters of all persuasions benefited from reforms adopted in North Carolina over the past two decades and from emergency measures added because of COVID-19.

In fact, Republicans benefited the most; state law in 2020, even as administered by majority Democratic boards of elections, helped pro-GOP voters overtake the anticipated blue wave and win nearly all the closely contested races in North Carolina:

More Republicans than Democrats used same-day registration; they showed an ID, registered and cast a retrievable ballot during early voting.

 More Republicans than Democrats successfully used a provisional ballot because they were in the wrong precinct or had not updated their registration.

A bigger share of registered Republicans than Democrats voted on the last Saturday of early voting, a day legislators had cut but restored in 2020 with extra hours.

Security measures (e.g., to prevent double voting and resolve protests) built confidence for everyone – and secured a Republican victory in the tight contest for Supreme Court chief justice.

Expanded recruitment of poll workers and federal funding allowed counties to open larger voting places – and this expansion helped Republicans vote safely in person and vastly outnumber Democrats.

Democrats dominated mail-in balloting, largely because President Trump vilified the practice; nevertheless, 200,000 N.C. Republicans voted by mail, thanks in part to a “cure” process that let voters submit missing information to validate their eligibility.

 Overall, our election system performed well, balancing access with security. It’s a system where Republicans and Democrats set policies and a professional staff managed the details. It can be improved – including a larger role for independents – but it has features other states could adopt.

State lawmakers are right to continually review policies and hold election supervisors accountable for properly administering the law, but they should also listen to recommendations from election officials. Some fragile parts of the process needed emergency fixes during the pandemic. Legislators should evaluate these measures for possible permanent changes, such as a uniform process for allowing voters to provide missing information on mail-in ballot certifications.

Erecting new barriers for eligible voters is the wrong path; it can even backfire by handing opponents a turnout-boosting battle cry against Jim Crow suppressors. The better path is to focus on delivering useful policies and a coherent message that inspires new voters and sustains supporters of your party.

Even with the record turnout in 2020, more than two million North Carolina citizens still did not cast a ballot. Whoever gets them engaged will win.