Tar Heel Travesties

The line between state and national politics is sometimes a thin one in America. I try to primarily write about national politics because that is where I am the most knowledgeable and my primary interest lies. Today I’m going to concentrate on my home state of North Carolina. Since 2011 the Tar Heel state has been home to many of the most egregious transgression but it is not alone. Let’s explore.  

Today’s article deals with issues related to elections. America’s Constitution yields almost all authority over elections to the states. That proved valuable in 2016 in that it lessened the impact of the Russian attack. In most states, that authority is further subdivided because county Boards of Elections have significant latitude in administering elections.

One area where the states have total control is in the design of congressional districts. The census determines the number of Representatives a state gets to send to the House of Representatives, but the state Legislature (sometimes in conjunction with the Governor) draws the lines. A “time honored” process known as gerrymandering often results. Gerrymandering (the term has an interesting history) is a process by which the majority party of a legislature draws districts (often of quite odd shapes) to achieve the greatest possible electoral advantage. With advances in computing the capability to gain incredible political advantage currently exists.

In 2011 the Republican controlled North Carolina General Assembly gerrymandered the districts to the point that it was ruled unconstitutional, (one of more than a dozen laws that the Courts have overturned as unconstitutional under this regime). The American Court system is often slow, therefore the 2012, 2014 and 2016 Congressional elections were held under gerrymandered maps. North Carolina is a purple state where the vote totals for the House are often about equal. North Carolina has 13 House members; under those circumstances you would expect a 7-6 split. The current delegation is 10-3 GOP.

After the first round of litigation the Republican controlled General Assembly was forced to redraw the maps. They did and new law suits were filed within hours. Monday a three judge panel from the Fourth Circuit ruled the maps were still unconstitutionally gerrymandered. They were uncertain as to remedy but contemplated having maps redraw by someone other than the General Assembly prior to November’s election. Their reasoning is that allowing the 2018 elections to proceed under the current maps would mean a minimum of 4 out of 5 possible elections taking place under unfair and unconstitutional circumstances.

If you are seeking proof of the GOP’s intent you need look no further than the words of their “gerrymandering chief”, State Rep. David Lewis who said, “I propose that we draw maps to give a partisan advantage to 10 Republicans and three Democrats because I do not believe it’s possible to draw a map with 11 Republicans and two Democrats.”

I expect that by the time you have read this the Republicans will have already appealed the decision. This case may well find its way to the Supreme Court. Any emergency relief would have to go through Chief Justice John Roberts because he has the “primary jurisdiction” over the Fourth Circuit. If this is decided prior to the November election there is a very good chance the Court will still only have eight justices leaving open the very real possibility of a 4-4 tie in which case the decision would revert to the last lower court decision.

A few practical considerations are that North Carolina is an early voting state which means that effectively Election Day is Wednesday October 17th. The timeline is even shorter when you consider that ballots must be printed and mailed (in the case of absentee ballots). This presents a dilemma when you try to balance equity and logistics.

The Republicans have also been playing the turnout game in the North Carolina General Assembly. They called a special session to enact six state constitutional amendments for the November ballot. (Limitations of time and space preclude me from detailing them, sufficed to say that they are all designed to increase right wing turnout and have no business being part of the primary law of the state.) North Carolina has a commission to come up with the verbiage used on the ballot for proposed amendments. The GOP was saw the icy reaction to the amendments and feared accurate language making its way onto the ballot. Therefore they called a second special session during which they wrote the language themselves. It did nothing to explain things to the voters, leaving them in a position where they are voting for unknowns. These actions have also generated court challenges.

Normally court challenges to bad laws would be considered a problem by the party that enacted them. Not so in North Carolina. During the radicals in Raleigh reign of terror the North Carolina Attorney General has always been a Democrat (Roy Cooper and now Josh Stein) who as good stewards of the people’s money have refused to defend the cases. The Republicans have turned this challenge into a fund raising tool. Early on they passed a law where when the AG refuses to defend a law they can hire outside council at taxpayer expense. The outside council is chosen by the Republican controlled General Assembly. The cases end up being political plums handed out to friendly law firms. To date the outside councils have lost every case, (maybe that is why the AG’s have refused to defend them). Not to worry, the Republicans were simply placating their base and funneling taxpayer dollars to friendly financiers. Effectively the taxpayers of North Carolina are helping fund the election campaigns of Republicans whether they want to or not.

As if all of the above were not bad enough; keep in mind that North Carolina is not the only example in the nation and this is a brief article.

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