Election law disputes have dominated North Carolina politics for a decade as Republican lawmakers have sought to restrict voting and Democrats have sought to make it easier.
But the results of the 2020 election have raised a question that complicates the debate: What if higher turnout helps Republicans?
That appears to be the case according to patterns analyzed by Bob Hall, a voting rights advocate and former head of Democracy North Carolina. New Republican voters, largely drawn to the polls to support President Donald Trump, used same-day registration at early voting sites more than Democrats, 43,100 to 39,100. (32,800 unaffiliated voters also used same-day registration.)
“The white working-class voters who are not super regular voters, they are really helped by these methods,” Hall said.
The margin favoring Republicans may have made the difference in the race for chief justice of the state Supreme Court. Republican Associate Justice Paul Newby edged incumbent Chief Justice Cheri Beasley by 401 votes out of more than 5.5 million votes cast. Early voting and same-day registration, two ideas favored by Democrats, may have handed Republicans control of the state’s judicial system.
Now, with state victories in-hand and the pandemic appearing to wane, Republicans will have to decide how to approach voting laws with the 2022 election on the horizon. Do they revert to making it harder to vote under the guise of preventing fraud, or do they embrace opening the process to reach more white, working-class residents, the state’s largest block of non-participating voters?
For now, they’re not saying. Rep. Harry Warren, R-Rowan, a vice chair of the House Election Law and Campaign Finance Committee, told the Editorial Board that discussion of election law changes is “premature.” He said, “While it is to be expected that some election-related legislation will be offered, I am not aware of any initiatives that have been started at this time.”
Rep. Susan Fisher, D-Buncombe, a House Democratic whip and a member of the House Election Law Committee, is hopeful that the 2020 results will show Republicans the benefits of making it easier to vote.
“What needs to be highlighted is that access to the vote is used by all parties and the bottom line is we should not be restricting folks’ ability to vote in any case,” she said. “It might be worthwhile to show that either party can benefit from less restrictive voting.”
Around the nation, Republicans aren’t getting that message. They’re reverting to voter suppression. A January roundup of election law legislation published by the Brennan Center for Justice reported that “In a backlash to historic voter turnout in the 2020 general election, and grounded in a rash of baseless and racist allegations of voter fraud and election irregularities, legislators have introduced three times the number of bills to restrict voting access as compared to this time last year.”
The proposed restrictions include limiting voting by mail, stricter voter ID requirements, limiting access to registration and more aggressive purging of voters rolls.
On a positive note, the Brennan Center also found that 35 states have pending legislation that would expand voter access. Among the proposals are calls to let all voters vote by mail, make it easier to correct flawed absentee ballots and restore the voting rights of individuals with past convictions.
We hope North Carolina’s Republican lawmakers don’t revert to voter suppression — and its cousin, gerrymandering — in the coming session. Suppressing votes and skewing elections with gerrymandering is ultimately a losing course. North Carolina Republicans need to find a way to win not by stifling democracy, but by engaging it.
After all, it worked in 2020.
Today’s editorial is from The News & Observer of Raleigh. The views expressed are not necessarily those of this newspaper.