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North Carolina GOP’s Plan to Hijack Elections Should Concern Voters Everywhere

North Carolina Republicans wrote the playbook for GOP-controlled legislatures. Now they’re planning a bigger power grab.

A voter fills out a ballot on November 8, 2022, in Winston Salem, North Carolina.

The Supreme Court recently prevented Republicans from hijacking state and county election boards in its 6-3 ruling against North Carolina Republicans in Moore v. Harper. If the state GOP had been successful, they would’ve been able to run federal-level elections in North Carolina and across the country without any pathway for citizens to challenge unfair election laws.

But voting rights are still under attack in North Carolina despite the high court’s ruling. Three bills, Senate Bill 749, House Bill 772 and Senate Bill 747 would overhaul state and local elections boards, allow poll watchers to “move freely” around polling sites, restrict same-day registration and mail-in voting, institute new voter ID regulations and give new powers to the state’s veto-proof Republican-majority state legislature.

This isn’t the first attempt by the GOP to sabotage democracy in the Tar Heel State.

Weeks before Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper was sworn into office at the start of 2017, state Republicans launched an all-out blitz to kneecap the incoming governor’s authority. Among other changes, they rigged the Board of Elections rules to keep it under conservative control during election years and yanked Governor Cooper’s executive power to appoint cabinet members without legislative approval. They also rerouted major lawsuits to a GOP-majority appeals court instead of the then Democrat-controlled state Supreme Court.

It was as reckless as it was shameless, but that didn’t stop the power grab from drawing attention from Republican-majority legislatures from across the country. Within two years, extremists in Michigan and Wisconsin were careening down the same dangerous path that North Carolina blazed.

Many described what happened back in 2016 in North Carolina as the drafting of a new anti-democratic playbook. But they were wrong — it was just the prelude. Fast forward seven years, and what’s happening in my state today is far worse and poised to be replicated again across the country.

North Carolina politicians regularly draw rigged electoral maps to ensure that they never lose another election. But tampering with electoral maps was just step one of their demolition plan for democracy.

These extremists are rapidly working through step two of their demolition plan for democracy: fully taking over the courts. Earlier this year, conservative members at the highest level of our judicial system, the North Carolina Supreme Court, worked hand-in-glove with state Republicans to break precedent to reinstate unconstitutional, discriminatory voter ID laws and partisan political maps that silenced the voices of Black North Carolinians for political gain.

As if that weren’t enough, these politicians are working to further erode the role of the judicial system in safeguarding the people’s voice. In the past, checks and balances meant that when our legislature passed an unfair law, voters could challenge it in court and seek restitution. Now, these power-grabbers want to prevent people from challenging unjust laws, and they intend to do that by putting themselves in charge of appointing the judges who handle cases brought against them.

Step three of their plan to demolish the foundations of democracy is to give the legislature control over our elections. They want to hijack our independent state and county election boards by creating evenly split boards where gridlock means the legislature makes the final call, including the outcome of elections. They even went as far as to take a case to the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing that lawmakers should have near absolute power to run federal elections, without any pathway for citizens to challenge unfair election laws. Luckily, the highest court in the land rejected the case, and in doing so, displayed far more sense than the highest in North Carolina.

It’s worth mentioning that these are the same callous North Carolina politicians who made disastrous funding cuts to my children’s schools and negligently presided over the state’s inexcusable teacher shortage. They’re the same ones who thumbed their nose for years at health care access that would have benefitted millions of hurting North Carolinians. Instead of focusing on what their constituents need — the kitchen table issues that we’ve always prioritized as a state — these fascists are hellbent on silencing our voices and ripping away basic rights, including the freedom to make critical decisions about our own bodies.

Make no mistake, the road that the Republicans in the North Carolina legislature are pursuing can only lead to tyranny, and it won’t be confined to just one state. Just as they did in 2016, GOP-controlled legislatures across the country are watching North Carolina and taking notes. Recall how extremist politicians in Wisconsin and Michigan jumped at the opportunity to pass their own batch of anti-democratic laws in 2018 just before the start of new terms by two incoming Democratic governors. What happens here could once again be the first domino to fall in a long chain of copycat power grabs nationwide.

If these power-grabbers get their way, it won’t matter what we think, say or want. Only their own partisan self-interest will. It’s time for U.S. people of every walk of life and all political stripes to set aside our differences and come together in defense of our rights, freedoms and the foundations that allow us to protect them.

For too long, North Carolina has been a cautionary tale, but it’s not too late for us to once again become a leader in strengthening democracy. My organization, North Carolina Voters for Clean Elections has proposed some essential common sense, pro-democracy reforms. By ensuring voter access, strengthening election infrastructure, and promoting fair redistricting and equal representation, we can put voters back in the driver’s seat and ensure that it’s regular North Carolinians, not extremist politicians, who are the ones deciding our future.

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