North Carolina Reminds Us Once Again That There Is No Progressive Future Without Full Voting Rights


In response to a court order to redraw districts that illegally distributed black voters in order to diminish their political power, North Carolina’s Republican-led redistricting committee has proposed a map that would give their Party “a large and durable advantage” in the coming two elections, according to an analysis of the new districts by the Campaign Legal Center.

“Assuming a statewide uniform swing in the vote, in order for there to be a Republican majority in the House, Republicans will only need a statewide vote of 45.7 percent,” the analysis found. “By contrast, Democrats would need 54.8 percent of the vote to get a majority in the House. This is asymmetrical, and evidences a severe bias in favor of Republican voters.”

Ordered to resolve its racial gerrymandering problem, the redistricting committee instead doubled down on partisan gerrymandering to produce a similar outcome: Districts that dilute the political power of the state’s largely Democratic black voters and all but guarantee a continued Republican super-majority. (It is worth mentioning here that 94 percent of the state’s Republican voters are white.) People noticed.

“You voted to ignore the race of voters in drawing new maps, as though that would protect you from being accused of drawing racially biased districts, but it’s clear that practice continues,” Bob Hall, executive director of Democracy NC, a voting rights organization in the state, said of the plan during an open hearing this week, as reported by the News & Observer.

The maps are still under review, but the mess in North Carolina is a reminder of the stakes ahead for voters of color, and current efforts to build a national progressive coalition to reclaim seats in state legislatures and Congress. Without full voting rights and equitable representation, there is no popular consensus strong enough to secure policies like universal healthcare, a living wage, or racial justice through police and prison reform. Republicans are responding to a future in which conservatives represent a minority of the electorate by ensuring that that minority can cling to power even as it shrinks

This is why Republican-led efforts to suppress the vote are on the rise. “Starting with this year, we’ve seen an uptick in bills that would restrict access to the ballot compared to 2015 and 2016,” Jonathan Brater, a counsel in democracy program at the Brennan Center for Justice, told me. “There have been more restrictive bills enacted than the previous two years combined.”

And while there exists some bipartisan consensus to expand the ballot at the state-level, notably in Illinois, in the last five years, “all of the most restrictive bills have been passed through entirely GOP-controlled bodies,” Brater said. Right now, Republicans have complete control—from the legislature to the governor’s mansion—of 26 states.

But red states don’t hold a total monopoly on arcane voting laws that depress turnout. New York stands as a particularly good (bad) example of how a state in the control of Democrats, at least nominally, can still get this so wrong.

While Republican-controlled state legislatures across the country work to roll back or restrict early voting, New York doesn’t have it in the first place. If you can’t vote on Election Day, the state of New York requires you to vote absentee. (The process is a pain in the ass, as someone who has done it.)

The state also has registration deadlines that are among the earliest in the country, which meant that many unaffiliated voters, and at least two Trump children, couldn’t vote in last year’s presidential primaries, because they had failed to switch parties 193 days in advance as required by law. The state does not offer automatic voter registration or same-day registration. And while there is popular consensus that this is an awful way to run elections and increase access to the franchise, these and other reforms have failed or stalled after being proposed in the state legislature.

“In New York, we have long urged the state to modernize its voter registration procedures, including through automatic voter registration,” Bater told me. “New York is way out of the mainstream. There are a lot of barriers to the average citizen who is not a ‘super voter’ being able to have their voice heard in a lot of the elections that affect them the most.”

“The reasons for the inaction seem clear,” Jeffrey Toobin wrote last year the New Yorker. “Incumbent politicians benefit from low-turnout, low-interest elections, in which few people muster the enthusiasm or effort to vote.”

This is a system that serves unaccountable Democrats in New York just as well as it serves unaccountable Republicans in North Carolina. Bipartisanship at last.

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