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The GOP voter suppression jamboree comes to North Carolina
The state's extreme gerrymander represents the latest Republican effort to secure permanent rule.
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Republican policies are not broadly popular. Rather than alter those policies to win elections, Republicans have chosen to alter elections.
Thanks to gerrymandering, purges of voter rolls, and lies about constitutional amendments, the GOP is working to ensure it stays in power and its conservative policies prevail — regardless of whether a majority of voters want them.
The most recent — and most blatant — example of this comes from North Carolina, where the GOP has engaged in a years-long process to secure permanent rule despite it being a purple state. This effort has ultimately been a resounding success, with Republican legislators teaming up with the Republican-dominated state Supreme Court to pass a truly breathtaking gerrymander.
North Carolina’s new, rigged congressional map
For the 2022 election, North Carolina was under court-ordered maps thanks to the fact that the GOP-dominated General Assembly had drawn highly-gerrymandered districts designed to keep Republicans in power. The courts acted as a check on the GOP attempt to game the system, with the state Supreme Court ruling that partisan gerrymanders were illegal.
At that time, the state Supreme Court had a 4-3 Democratic split, and it threw out GOP maps that would have given the Republicans 11 likely seats out of 14 congressional districts. The court held that the General Assembly, in passing the gerrymandered maps, had violated the state constitution because it “deprives a voter of his or her right to substantially equal voting power on the basis of partisan affiliation.” Put another way, the GOP had taken away the right of Democratic voters to have their votes counted equally, which is about as grievous an attack on the rights of voters as you can get.
RELATED FROM PN: North Carolina's cautionary tale for purple states
Then, Republicans prevailed in the 2022 state judicial elections, flipping the court from a 4-3 Democratic majority to a 5-2 Republican one. With that, the last bulwark against the GOP fell.
The state Supreme Court immediately went on a tear. Right away, it decided to rehear cases on voter ID and redistricting — cases where the GOP had been handed a loss less than a year previously. For instance, months before the new conservative majority took control, the court invalidated a voter ID law passed by the GOP state legislature. That December 2022 ruling upheld a trial court decision that Republican legislators were aware of evidence that Black residents had less access to acceptable forms of voter identification, but did nothing to address those concerns.
The decision to rehear those cases wasn’t based on any change in the law, but rather because of a change in the court’s personnel. Justice Anita Earls, dissenting from the decision to rehear the voter ID case, noted that in the last 30 years, 214 petitions for rehearing were filed, but they were only granted in two cases. Earls wrote that the court’s willingness to rehear a case simply because the GOP wanted it to highlighted that precedents were “only as enduring as the terms of the justices who sit on the bench.”
In just one day only a few months after the new court was seated — April 28, 2023 —the state Supreme Court reversed both the voter ID and redistricting cases. After that, the writing was on the wall, with multiple news outlets writing that same day that the path was now clear for the GOP to pass its gerrymandered maps.
Last week, the General Assembly approved those gerrymandered maps again, giving the Republicans 10 safe seats to the Democrats’ three, with one swing district. The state’s Democratic governor, Roy Cooper, cannot veto redistricting legislation, so there’s nothing to put the brakes on the GOP.
North Carolina Republicans didn’t do this all by themselves. They owe a debt of gratitude to Chief Justice John Roberts. First, in Shelby v. Holder, Roberts oversaw the dismantling of a key provision of the Voting Rights Act, throwing out the VRA’s preclearance requirement, which required states with a history of discrimination to submit any changes to their voting laws to the Department of Justice. Next, Roberts, writing for the conservative majority in 2019’s Rucho v. Common Cause, held that while excessively partisan gerrymanders “reasonably seem unjust,” fixing the problem presents “political questions beyond the reach of the federal courts.”
Mississippi’s aggressive voter purge
North Carolina isn’t alone in its attempt to create permanent GOP rule. Earlier this year, Mississippi passed a law that allows for much more aggressive purges of voters from the rolls. Last week, Jackson TV station WLBT3 reported that the state NAACP found that over 50,000 voters had been purged in just five counties.
Good luck to the voters who just found out they were improperly purged, as Mississippi has a voter registration deadline of 30 days before the election and that’s long past. Get-out-the-vote efforts in the state saw 30,000 new voters registered in the last six months, but that amount is more than offset by the number removed from the rolls.
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More aggressive purges have been a goal of the state’s GOP for years, ostensibly as a tool to fight voter fraud. Voter fraud is, of course, a basically non-existent problem, but it is a convenient way for Republicans to restrict access to the ballot box.
Voter purges in red states have spiked in the last decade since the Shelby decision. They’ve targeted Black communities, and resulted in nearly 16 million voters nationwide being removed from the voter rolls just from 2014 to 2016. Voter purges are also notoriously unreliable, purging eligible voters in large numbers. So, in just a few days, Mississippi voters will go to vote for every legislative seat in the state and the governor’s race, but many voters may find they’re no longer registered.
Desperate times, desperate measures in Ohio
Over in Ohio, Republicans are taking a comprehensive approach to ensure GOP anti-choice policies prevail despite the voters wishing otherwise.
In August 2023, voters rejected the GOP-driven efforts to make it harder to amend the state’s constitution by referendum. The GOP wanted to raise the threshold required to amend from a simple majority to 60 percent in the hopes that doing so would make a November referendum on abortion rights much harder for liberals to win.
The following month, the GOP-dominated state Ballot Board got the Ohio Supreme Court to agree that it could use “unborn child” rather than “fetus” on the November ballot. Voters now won’t see the actual text of the amendment, which seeks to add the protection of reproductive rights to the state constitution. Instead, they’ll see language that the referendum would “always allow an unborn child to be aborted at any stage of pregnancy regardless of viability if, in the treating physician's determination, the abortion is necessary to protect the pregnant woman's life or health."
Then, in September, the state purged 26,000 voters from its rolls, with over 4,000 of those voters being purged from Franklin County, which includes Columbus, a reliably Democratic vote. The state’s conservative Secretary of State, Frank LaRose, didn’t announce the purge when he did it in September, and since Ohio voters have to register by October 10, those who only just learned they were removed are out of luck.
As none of these things appear to be moving the needle, Republicans have now resorted to using a taxpayer-funded legislative website to say that passage of the referendum means there will be “dismemberment of fully conscious children.”
Republicans are rightly worried because support for amending the state constitution to protect abortion rights is robust. Overall, 58 percent of Ohioans support the proposed amendment, but 85 percent of women who say they are independent voters — a coveted demographic — support it.
In each of these states, Republicans have shown themselves willing to undermine elections in order to stay in power. It’s no real surprise they’d do so, given that the leader of their party is still pushing the big lie about the 2020 election and a majority of Republicans are going along with that fiction. It’s a grim world when one party has decided that elections simply should not matter.
That’s it for today
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