Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

Bipartisan group of former governors calls on court to ‘root out’ partisan gerrymandering

From left, clockwise: Governors Jim Hunt, Jim Martin, Mike Easley and Bev Perdue.

A bipartisan group of former North Carolina governors filed a court document today asking the three-judge panel in a partisan gerrymandering to root out the destructive practice.

The governors who filed the amicus brief are James B. Hunt Jr., who served from 1977 to 1984 and again from 1993 to 2000; James G. Martin, who served from 1985 to 1992; Michael F. Easley, who served from 2001 to 2008; and Beverly E. Perdue, who served from 2009 to 2012. Martin is a Republican and the others are Democrats.

Amici served as Governors of North Carolina for 36 straight years,” the document states. “During that time, we experienced highs and lows in the functioning of state government. The highs came when members of different political parties worked together to move our State forward, and when all three branches respected the separation of powers at the core of our constitutional system. The lows came when progress took a back seat to partisanship, and when the legislature sought to expand its own power at the expense of the executive and judicial branches.”

Former Gov. Pat McCrory is noticeably missing from the filing, despite supporting redistricting reform in the past. The Republican served the state from 2013 to 2017.

Post-trial briefs are due tonight by midnight in Common Cause v. Lewis. The two week-long trial ended almost two weeks ago, and it could take weeks or even a month for the three-judge panel to issue a decision in the case.

The plaintiffs asked the court to throw out the 2017 legislative maps that were used in last year’s election and could be used again in 2020. The plan to also ask the court not to allow lawmakers to redraw those maps after violating the public’s trust multiple times.

GOP lawmakers contend that partisan gerrymandering is not illegal and that the maps they produced — as part of a remedial process to correct maps that were racially gerrymandered — were not extreme outliers. They believe that since the U.S. Supreme Court declined to get involved in the issue, the state courts should to.

The former North Carolina governors disagree. The brief they filed today says the state courts “should play their essential role here and defend the North Carolina Constitution against partisan gerrymandering. It is particularly critical for our state courts to act in this instance because the other branches cannot or will not stop partisan gerrymandering,”

Democrats controlled the legislature when Martin, a Republican, was in office. Still, he said, they worked together on many important initiatives despite very strong differences on how the state government should operate.

“We found common ground and even led the nation in manufacturing while I was in office,” he said in a news release. “We had bipartisanship when we extended I-40 across the state. We both pushed for improvements in education, even though we had many differences. The current partisan gerrymandering impedes our ability to work together and to uphold good government.”

The three former Democratic governors spoke in the same release about how partisan gerrymandering hurts separation of powers and how advanced redistricting technology “let the legislature run roughshod over the other two branches of government.”

“A separation of powers, as defined by our state constitution, fosters a healthy give-and-take among all three branches,” Hunt said. “Partisan gerrymandering breaks that system, regardless of which party holds the majority. It skews our system of governance by discouraging compromise, increasing divisiveness, dissuading capable citizens from seeking office, and eroding the faith our citizens have in our government.”

Easly echoed those sentiments and said if the legislature won’t fix the problem, then the courts have to. Perdue said it was distressing to see how partisan gerrymandering has unfolded in the state’s history.

“We’re seeing the evidence today of how divisive it is when one party seeks to shut out the voices of the voters,” she said. “It eliminates competitive elections, poisons our politics, and corrupts our system of government.”

Read the full amicus brief below.



Common Cause v Lewis Motion and Brief of Former NC Governors (Text)

Defending Democracy, News

Tuesdays with Tillis group asks for Voting Rights Act restoration on 54th anniversary

North Carolinians gathered Tuesday outside Sen. Thom Tillis’ office to ask for a full restoration of the Voting Rights Act. (Photo by Melissa Boughton)

Today marks the 54th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act (VRA), a measure that, until six years ago, was considered to be one of the most powerful civil rights laws in the country.

The document protected voters from all types of discrimination, but in 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court gutted a pre-clearance section that required states with a history of voter disenfranchisement to get approval from the federal government before changing their voting laws.

In the aftermath of the Shelby v. Holder decision, voter suppression laws cropped up across the country, including in North Carolina, where a voter ID law was ruled so racially discriminatory by a federal court that it was struck down altogether.

To commemorate the anniversary of the VRA as a whole, North Carolinians gathered outside Sen. Thom Tillis’ office to call for a restoration of the pre-clearance part of the law.

“It was a triumph of freedom; it was a triumph of democracy; it was a triumph of all people of all backgrounds of all colors,” said Faisal Khan, of Carolina Peace Center, about the signing of the VRA. “But now we are seeing constantly that our rights, especially for people of color, especially for Black people and brown people, are being suppressed. We’re seeing a shift in voter suppression laws.”

Khan encouraged everyone to get out and vote in the next election to help kick out of office the lawmakers who support voter suppression.

“The essence of the U.S., of democracy lies on voting,” he said. “We the people, all the good people of this country, are going to overcome and take this country back.”

John McNeil also spoke at the event. He was a 2016 Democratic candidate the 2nd U.S. House district in North Carolina, but lost his bid to Republican George Holding.

“Y’all have heard the phrase, ‘you can fool all of the people some of the time but only some of the people all the time,” McNeil said. “What the GOP is doing with their voter suppression is ensuring that only some of the people are allowed to vote. The some of the people that they can fool every single time. They cut this community because that’s not some of the people they can fool; they cut this demographic because that’s not some of the people they can fool; they cut this demographic because they don’t like the way they vote — they want to get rid of them.”

He echoed Khan in calling for more people to get to the polls.

“I think the key is going to be ensuring that Republicans can’t do to us again what they’ve done since about 2010,” he said. “Please get out and work your butts off, and I will do the same.”

Voter Jacalyn Engler told the crowd she wanted fair representation and that voter suppression has resulted in “real damage” to the country and the world.

“We can’t go back, but we must deal with these multifaceted attacks on our democracy,” she said.

In addition to discussing the VRA, the group gathered at the federal building on New Bern Avenue also bowed their heads in prayer to honor the victims from the mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio.

The group expressed disappointment in their elected officials and went around in a circle to share what they would say to Tillis if they were in his office. Here are a few of those sentiments:

“He should have heard my voice by now.”

“I think he’s not doing his job.”

“I wish he would hold a town hall one day.”

“I’m a big fan of democracy and voting.”

“I do believe immigrants get the job done.”

“I believe we need redress.”

“Don’t let the NRA run the USA.”

“I’d like him to come back from recess and pass some common sense gun legislation.”

“Thom Tillis is a racist, a bigot, a white supremacist, and we will vote him out.”

“Why go through all [the trouble of an election] so that you can represent [President Donald Trump] and not us?

“Why are we always having to be here for something — we’re out here every week.”

Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

Board of Elections vote to rescind certification delay fails; next meeting scheduled

A North Carolina State Board of Elections motion to rescind members’ votes Monday night related to voting systems certification failed Thursday after a tie-vote following Chairman Bob Cordle’s resignation for telling an inappropriate joke at an elections conference earlier this week.

The Board had voted Monday to delay certification of voting systems ahead of the 2020 elections so that it could adopt stricter criteria about markings on paper ballots, but Republican member David Black said he misunderstood what he voted for that night and he presented a motion Thursday to rescind it.

He said at the meeting Thursday that there was a sense of urgency to move forward with the certification process without delay because some counties needed to prepare to purchase new systems before theirs are de-certified at the end of the year. The machines that will become de-certified will no longer be able to be used in elections.

Black said it would also be unfair to the three vendors whose machines were under consideration for the Board to postpone the process.

Stella Anderson, a Democratic member who acted as Chairman solely for Thursday’s meeting, stood by her Monday motion to adopt the stricter criteria. She said if the Board thought the criteria was a good idea to have, then they should implement it for this certification process.

The certification requirement she proposes the Board consider is: “an electronically assisted marking device or other ballot marking equipment shall produce human readable marks on a paper ballot. A voter must be able to identify his or her intent as evidence by the mark on the ballot.”

The Board vote was tied — Anderson and fellow Democrat Jeff Carmon voted not to rescind Monday’s vote and Republican members Black and Ken Raymond voted to rescind the vote. The motion to rescind failed without a majority vote.

The Board will meet at 1 p.m. Aug. 23 to consider the stricter voting systems certification requirement and other matters. They will hear public comment at that meeting.

Voting rights advocates have been encouraging the Board to certify hand-marked paper ballots to ensure the most secure elections in the future. Several of them were at the Thursday meeting, though there was no public comment.

It remains unclear when Gov. Roy Cooper will appoint a new chairperson to the Board.

Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

ICYMI: Board of Elections chairman resigns after misogynistic joke; voting systems vote could be up in air

The Chairman of the North Carolina State Board of Elections resigned Tuesday after backlash from a joke he made at a conference earlier this week comparing women to cows that refuse sex.

Bob Cordle, a Democrat appointed to the helm by Gov. Roy Cooper, tendered his resignation effective immediately. He is the second Cooper appointee to resign amid criticism about their behavior — Andy Penry left the post after making critical comments about President Donald Trump online.

“I sincerely apologize to those who heard my joke at the elections conference on Monday and all those affected by my words,” Cordle said in his resignation letter. “I thank you for the privilege to serve my state and the citizens of North Carolina in this important position and wish my fellow board members, Executive Director Brinson Bell and State Board staff success in upcoming elections.”

WRAL first reported the story, and Wake County Board of Elections member Gerry Cohen, who was at the elections conference Cordle spoke at, told the TV station his remarks were “an extremely lengthy dirty joke” that was “misogynistic and wildly inappropriate for a high-ranking state official to tell … to kick off a training session of 600 election officials and administrators.”

Cooper, who accepted Cordle’s resignation Tuesday, will appoint the next Chairman, but it’s unclear how soon. Whomever takes over will be the fourth chair of the Board in eight months, since the structure changed after litigation.

Cooper’s spokesman, Ford Porter, thanked Cordle for his service in an emailed statement to the media.

“The State Board of Elections needs to continue its important work without distraction to ensure the integrity of our electoral process,” he said.

Cordle’s departure comes as the State Board is set to make a decision about certifying voting systems ahead of the 2020 elections. He had voted against postponing the decision on which systems to certify so that the Board could adopt stricter requirements to bolster election security.

It was a 3-2 vote Monday night, but the Board gave notice Tuesday of another planned meeting for Thursday morning to rescind that vote. Cordle said in response to the course reversal that fellow Board member David Black, a Republican, had misunderstood the repercussions of voting for the motion and wanted to instead proceed with the certification process.

Without Cordle’s vote at the meeting, the Board could be deadlocked in its next decision about certification.

The meeting is scheduled for 11 a.m. Thursday in the boardroom on the 3rd Floor of the Dobbs Building, 430 N. Salisbury Street, in Raleigh. Members of the public can attend in-person or listen to audio of the meeting by calling 213-929-4212 (code 757-613-568).

Read Cordle’s letter of resignation below.



LetterofResignation Robert Cordle1 (Text)

Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

Democracy NC: Tell Board of Elections to vote for paper ballots

The North Carolina State Board of Elections is set to decide tonight whether it will continue to certify touch-screen voting systems or return to analog paper ballots.

Voting rights groups are urging the Board to return to paper for a number of reasons, but the big one being security issues.

“Specifically, while a new generation of touch-screen machines known as ballot-marking devices (BMDs) improve on the touchscreen systems currently used in parts of North Carolina, we are concerned that these machines raise a new set of security and usability challenges,” states a Democracy NC web page. “We have urged the State Board to to limit touchscreen BMDs for use with voters with accessibility needs and certify only those machines that tabulate hand-marked ballots — the sort of system used in much of the state.”

About one-third of the state uses touch-screen voting. The certification of new voting systems would empower the 100 county boards of elections to choose equipment that best serves their voters in 2020 and beyond.

Some voting machines used in North Carolina are more than a decade old.

The meeting tonight is a continuation of one from Sunday night. The Board had postponed its decision to tonight, and will choose from three vendors. Read more information about it here, and see agenda items here.

The public can attend the meeting, which starts at 7 p.m. in the Triangle Ballroom at Cary Embassy Suites, 201 Harrison Oaks Blvd., Cary, 27513. They can also listen to proceedings by calling 914-614-3221 (code 944-047-563).

Democracy NC is encouraging North Carolinians to also reach out to the Board ahead of the meeting to urge them to vote for a paper-ballot system. Read more about how to do that here.

“This is important because when it comes to machines, we care about access, security, and confidence,” the organization’s website states. “Voters deserve election infrastructure they can trust. As next year’s elections approach, public interest and concern in systems especially and security practices generally will only increase.”

Read NC Policy Watch tomorrow afternoon for an update about the vote.