Commentary, Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy

Editorial: North Carolina lawmakers seek to manipulate voters in N.C. Supreme Court race

N.C. Supreme Court candidate Anita Earls

North Carolina lawmakers’ latest attempt to manipulate the order in which candidates are listed on the ballot passed last month and has become law.

Today, Capital Broadcasting Company published an editorial skewering legislators’ move as a transparent effort to boost the Republican candidate for the state Supreme Court.

From the editorial:

“If at first you cheat to rig an election and succeed; try, try again.”

If that isn’t a saying around North Carolina’s General Assembly, it should be. Back in 2016, a mid-campaign change to laws on the ballot order listing for state Court of Appeals candidates helped elect Phil Berger Jr., son of powerful state Senate leader Phil Berger.

Last month, a new law passed, also in mid-campaign, to help secure victory for their favorite Republican candidate for state Supreme Court Justice.

More significantly, the new law puts the Democratic candidate, Anita Earls, at the bottom of the ballot list. Earls has drawn the particular ire of legislative leaders as the key lawyer who challenged, with significant success, bills they’ve passed aimed at making it more difficult for minorities to vote as well as impose racial and partisan gerrymandering.

A month ago, the Senate Select Committee on Elections, led by Ralph Hise, R-Mitchell, revived the little-noticed House-passed bill that had been gathering dust for more than a year. It was “regarding the placement of candidates on official election ballots.”

In two days this resuscitated bill, initially sponsored by Rep. Bert Jones, R-Rockingham, had three sentences added and passed the Senate without a dissenting vote. It was overwhelmingly approved in the House of Representatives. Two weeks later it was law without Gov. Roy Cooper’s signature.

The new law does two critical things to tilt an election:

  • Abolishes the requirement in general elections, that the first name on the ballot for each partisan contest be the nominee from the party of the current governor (Now a Democrat. You can bet the old law wouldn’t be changing if there’d been a 10,000 shift in votes for governor in 2016).
  • Maintains for the current general election only, contrary to past practice, the ballot placement order set by the “random selection process” for the 2018 primary election. There is a detailed description of that ballot order process, including a video, here. As a result, candidates are listed in alphabetical order, starting with the letter “F.” Thus, Earls is last.

In 2016, a mid-campaign shift ended up both making the Court of Appeals contest Phil Berger Jr. was in listed as the first race, and had his name listed on top.

Being first matters. Research by Darren Grant at Sam Houston State University has documented the advantages — at 10-percentage points or more.

In Florida, Democrats have gone to federal court claiming a law that mandates candidates of the governor’s political party to be listed first on a ballot creates “position bias” and gives the governing party an unfair advantage.

Legislative leaders have stuffed the ballot with irrelevant and unnecessary State Constitutional Amendments, meddled in the days and hours citizens can go to the polls and vote, stacked the composition of legislative and congressional voting districts and injected last-minute bias to the order names appear on the ballot.

Why all this desperation, manipulation and cheating?

Clearly, these leaders both lack faith in voters to make choices that are in THEIR interests and not in those of their rulers. Even further, they lack faith their own ideologically-driven agenda holds any attraction to voters. Why else would they be so compelled to inject bias into the elections?

We have faith that North Carolina voters will see through the fog of manipulation and deceit.

We’ll see you at the polls.

One Comment


  1. Dwight Frederick Willis

    July 13, 2018 at 6:34 pm

    I just don’t understand why NC voters are not marching in the streets. I never dreamed that our citizens would allow democracy to be taken from them without a fight. Third world countries have freer elections than we have in NC. I have invited former President Jimmy Carter to come to NC and monitor our elections for the United Nations.

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