This election cycle was unique in many ways, including making the unexpected, expected. Whether it was the five-hour lines to vote in Arizona, or the rise of political outsiders Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, there are so many things that would have been hard to imagine 18 months ago.
And North Carolina was no exception to that rule. 2016 was a year full of political strife in the state, including a Fourth Circuit Court decision to overturn blatantly discriminatory voter id laws, gerrymandering that left boundaries looking more like Rorschach tests than districts, and a special election scheduled for 2017 to try to right these wrongs. We were there to see the chaos unfold firsthand, as we worked with organizations like the NAACP NC, Common Cause NC, and NCPIRG to register voters and turn back the tide of voter suppression in the state.
Stacking the Deck
These attempts to suppress the voices of specific communities through Voter ID laws and redistricting are symptoms of a democratic system beholden not to the will of the people, but to an increasingly divided two party system in a historically purple state. The situation has gone from bad to worse in recent weeks, as the outgoing governor signed into law a series of bills intended to hobble the incoming governor.
Following a governor’s race that was won by just over 10,000 votes - and threats of recounts - this isn’t the first time that North Carolina’s highest seat has been mired in drama. We’ve highlighted four challenges to democracy in North Carolina, and beyond:
The Power Grab
- Cooks in the kitchen:
Typically, the incoming governor appoints their own cabinet members – ensuring these positions will support the administration with the strengths needed to successfully run the state. One of the new laws has turned that thinking on its head, and now requires that all the governor’s appointees receive State Senate approval. Yes, the same senate that was elected through gerrymandered districts and voter suppression.
- Equal, yet not fair:
The State Board of Elections, the group tasked with overseeing the elections process – which has had its aforementioned woes – has been changed dramatically by the existing administration in order to limit the power of the incoming governor. A five-person board appointed by the governor has been changed to an eight-person board which must be evenly divided by the two parties, and only half of which can be appointed by the governor.
- Many hands make light work:
Leadership in the NC General Assembly expanded the number of employees that report to the governor in recent years – a boon to current governor McCrory. That same benefit may not be given to incoming Governor Cooper, as a bill awaiting the current governor’s signature will reduce the number of employees appointed by the governor by over 1,000. Being that these posts are usually held by lawmakers who help the governor get the job done, it will clearly stifle progress in the capital.
- Outside the Statehouse Walls:
While all of this was happening within the Statehouse, there was even more happening outside of it. The failure of the electoral process means that those fighting for a fair democracy in North Carolina, including the NAACP NC and others, have had little time for rest this year. Hundreds continued to vocalize their support on the governor’s doorstep to ensure fair elections free of unconstitutional Voter ID laws, gerrymandered districts, and subversive tactics in the statehouse.
And in a strange turn of events on Monday, outgoing governor McCrory announced a special session to repeal his administration’s so called “Bathroom Bill,” HB2. On the face of it, the announcement appears to be a victory for organizations standing up for transgender rights in North Carolina. But ending HB2 required that the city of Charlotte first repeal a city council ordinance that prevented discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. In truth, the outgoing administration is leaving North Carolina as they found it - a place where discrimination is still legal. If there’s a bright spot, it’s that the pressure from individuals and companies boycotting the state in response to the legislature’s bigoted policies got them to change their ways.
You can help keep the momentum going! The election may be over, but we’re already seeing the impacts of a corrupt democracy that lacks the protection of the Voting Rights Act. Sign the petition urging congress to Reauthorize the Voting Rights act to protect the right to vote for all colors, incomes and age groups.