Gridlocking elections

Published June 15, 2023

By Thomas Mills

The North Carolina legislature’s latest attempt to strip power away from the governor reflects their understanding of the political future. As North Carolina grows and diversifies, the Republicans controlling the General Assembly can gerrymander districts to keep themselves in power for decades but they will have an increasingly difficult time winning statewide office. They want to eliminate as many checks on their power as possible. Stripping the governor’s power of appointment to the election board will create more uncertainty in our election system, casting doubt about the legitimacy of elections and reducing the balance of power.

Currently, the governor appoints the members of the State Board of Elections, three from the party of the governor and two from the other party. The proposed bill would strip that power and give power of appointment to the legislature. The house and senate leaders would each choose two members and the minority leaders of both chambers would choose two apiece. The eight-member board would result in four Republicans and four Democrats in most cases, but the proposal puts no restriction on party so  unaffiliated voters could hold seats. 

The Federal Election Commission has an evenly divided board and devolved into a toothless agency that repeatedly fails to hold violators of election laws accountable. North Carolina’s evenly divided board would likely fall into similar gridlock. For all their rhetoric about election integrity, Republicans really don’t want much accountability. They just want more leeway to scream, “Vote fraud!” with no evidence to back it up and no decisive board to substantiate or unsubstantiate their claims. Instead of restoring confidence in elections, the plan could continue to erode trust in the system by leaving more uncertainty.

Republicans’ obsession with elections and “election integrity” began with the election of Barack Obama. White Republicans, especially in the South, could not believe that the majority of the county would actually support a Black man for president. Out of the blue, the GOP started making accusations of massive voter fraud. That’s not a coincidence.

Back then, they claimed in-person early voting was the root of the supposed voter fraud, though they could produce no evidence. Regardless, they launched a national campaign to make voting more difficult and North Carolina was ground zero. They sliced early voting periods and instituted voter ID regulations that specifically targeted African Americans and young people, claiming that they needed to restore trust in the system. 

They tried to move voting places away from college campuses and areas with high Black populations. Their voter ID requirements demanded state issued identification cards, but exempted college IDs issued by state universities. Their goal was to reduce the number of voters with a propensity to support Democrats. 

While they insisted that they were just trying to stop corruption in our election system, Republicans refused to address potential fraud from absentee vote-by-mail ballots. Back then, Republicans dominated this system of voting. Again, that was not a coincidence.

When a massive fraud scheme was revealed, Republicans were the ones perpetrating it. GOP operatives were fraudulently collecting and submitting bogus mail-in ballots. In a truly Orwellian argument, Republicans have been using the now-infamous fraud scheme in Bladen County to prove that they were right about election fraud and to justify restricting access to the ballot. 

The GOP has spent 15 years eroding trust in our election system with bogus claims of voter fraud. Their disinformation campaign reached a crescendo when Donald Trump claimed the 2020 election was stolen from him and Republican elected officials either backed him up or claimed, as Ted Budd did, “millions of Americans do not have faith” in our system. Never mind that they lost that faith because of unfounded accusations made by Republicans. 

Despite all of their claims, Republicans don’t want an election system that is fair or that works for all people. They want to erode trust in the system and weaken oversight that might disprove their bogus claims of fraud whenever Republicans lose. They will pack elections boards with the election deniers and conspiracy theorists who now dominate the GOP.

The goal of the GOP in restructuring the North Carolina has little to do with increasing trust in the system. The goal is to create uncertainty and prevent effective management of elections by an executive branch led by a governor in a the state that is slowly shifting more Democratic. The GOP wants to strengthens a powerful legislature that has gerrymandered itself power for decades to come and casting doubt about elections they lose helps their cause. They don’t want fair elections standing in the way of their unfettered control of the state.