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Voter IDA new analysis of voter registration data shows that under the McCrory administration, North Carolina may be systematically failing to provide state residents with the opportunity to register to vote when they apply for public assistance — such as food stamps or welfare — in violation of the National Voter Registration Act.

Commonly called the “Motor Voter Law,” the Act requires public assistance agencies and motor vehicle offices to provide voter registration services whenever someone applies for benefits, renews or recertifies benefits, or changes an address with the agency, unless the person declines these services in writing.

Affected programs include the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (“SNAP”), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (“TANF”), the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (“WIC”), the Medicaid program, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (“CHIP”).

According to Democracy NC, voter registration applications initiated at public assistance agencies have dropped dramatically since McCrory took office. They fell from an annual average of 38,400 between 2007 and 2012 to an average of only 16,000 in the past two years, a decline of more than 50 percent.

The organization also reports that last fall it and other voting-rights groups checked out 19 public assistance agencies across the state  and found after interviews that up to 75 percent of the clients at the agencies did not see a registration question on agency forms and were not asked whether they would like to register to vote, as required by federal law.

Also, according to this piece in the The Daily Kos:

From 1995 through 2012, the North Carolina State Board of Elections (SBOE) published on its web site annual summaries (in the form of Excel spreadsheets) of its NVRA compliance data. But, beginning in 2013 (when McCrory took office), that practice appears to have come to a halt, and no annual summaries are available there for McCrory’s term (2013-2014).

Here’s a graph from that article showing the apparent decline:

(Source: DocDawg for Daily Kos)

(Source: DocDawg for Daily Kos)

Democracy NC, Action NC, and the A. Philip Randolph Institute sent a notice letter today to the State Board of Elections  and the Department of Health and Human Services, advising both of their findings and giving the state 90 days to comply with the law or face yet another voting rights lawsuit.

North Carolina is already in the throes voting rights battles in the courts. Three federal lawsuits — including one brought by the Justice Department — and another action in state court, all concerning the state’s so called “Monster Voting Law,” are now pending.

The state is also fighting a challenge to its 2011 voter redistricting plan, a case that is now back in state Supreme Court after being remanded by the U.S. Supreme Court.

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Commentary

Editorial pages and good government advocates are weighing in this morning in praise of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to send North Carolina’s gerrymandered legislative maps back to the state Supreme Court for further review. This morning’s Fayetteville Observer calls the decision a “setback” for gerrymandering and concludes this way:

“We don’t know how this will be settled, but it reminds us that the creation of a nonpartisan redistricting commission is the real solution that we need.”

Meanwhile, Raleigh’s News & Observer terms the ruling a “voter victory.” It also notes that:

“Redrawing legislative and congressional districts is a task that ruling parties take on after a census. It’s true, as Republicans have claimed, that Democrats drew districts to their advantage when they were in power, but they did not go to the extremes the GOP did.

Think of how much time and trouble and money the state could save if it established a bipartisan commission to draw districts every 10 years. But don’t expect that to happen while Republicans continue to enjoy being in power after 100 years out of it.”

And for more details on how a nonpartisan solution is within easy reach of the General Assembly, turn over to the right side of the N&O editorial section and read this op-ed by Common Cause board member and retired N.C. State professor Larry King in which he explains how GOP lawmakers like Representatives David Lewis and Bert Jones have done one of the all-time flip flops on the issue. As King explains:

“Republican Party leaders need to let the democratic process play out. This is legislation they have long championed. North Carolina Republicans remember all too well how frustrating it was when their voices weren’t heard because of gerrymandered districts. Redistricting reform ensures this never happens again. It’s time to end gerrymandering once and for all in North Carolina, and it starts with letting H92 be heard in committee.

The residents of North Carolina deserve no less.”

Commentary
Gerrymandering

Image: Southern Coalition for Social Justice

In case you missed it, the U.S. Supreme Court took actually issued a promising 5-4 ruling yesterday in the challenge to Alabama’s racially gerrymandered redistricting plan.

Moreover, as the good folks at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice explain in the statement below, the decision could have a significant and positive impact in the challenge to the unconstitutional “Rucho plan” now in effect in North Carolina:

“U.S. SUPREME COURT’S DECISION IN ALABAMA REDISTRICTING CASE HAS IMPLICATIONS FOR NORTH CAROLINA’S REDISTRICTING PLANS

In a win for voting rights advocates, the U.S. Supreme Court today put the brakes on using explicit racial criteria in redistricting. The 5 to 4 decision constrained the cynical use of the Voting Rights Act to justify race-based redistricting that minimizes the voting strength of minority voters—a strategy employed by several Southern states in the 2010 redistricting cycle.

The Court ruled that race predominated in the Alabama legislature’s redistricting of state house and senate districts when it moved black voters into majority-minority districts in order to prevent the percentage of minority voters from declining. Read More

Commentary
Sen. Phil Berger

Sen. Phil Berger

In case you missed it over the weekend, Charlotte Observer editorial page editor had a scathing and excellent essay taking Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger to task for his downright embarrassing hypocrisy on the issue of redistricting reform.

As Batten points out, Berger was sponsored at least five reform bills over a period of eight years that would have done almost exactly what the proposal he is now standing in the way of in 2015 would do:

“Has there ever been a more glaring example of how where you stand depends on where you sit?

Berger, R-Rockingham, sat toward the back when he was in the minority throughout the last decade. Today he sits up front as the Senate President Pro Tem. Surrounded by fellow Republicans everywhere he looks, he has a grip on power like Vladimir Putin – and a similar fondness for true democracy.

Maybe that’s not fair. Maybe the proposals announced last week to take much of the politics out of drawing congressional and legislative districts differ dramatically from the ones Berger co-sponsored. Let’s check.

Oh, no, actually they are nearly identical. In fact, entire passages from the bill filed last week are taken verbatim from bills Berger co-sponsored.”

As Batten also rightfully notes, Democratic leaders like Marc Basnight and Jim Black were at fault in those days for blocking reform — even though other Democrats were pushing for it. But that doesn’t absolve Berger now. At least Basnight and Black never pretended to be for it or led voters to believe they would implement it once in office as Berger clearly did.

As with so many other conservative switcheroos in recent years — on transparency in government, on a commitment to open debate in the General Assembly, on the need for “revenue neutral” tax reform — Berger’s flip flop smacks of raw opportunism and power hunger at their worst.

About all one can say going forward is that at least North Carolinians will have no illusions about where things really stand.

News

It took close to a year from the date of argument,  but as expected by many the state Supreme Court today handed down its decision upholding the 2011 redistricting plan.

The justices voted along party lines in the 4-2 opinion in Dickson v. Rucho, with Justice Robert Edmunds writing the opinion for the majority.

Justices Cheri Beasley and Robin Hudson joined in dissent, holding that the case should go back to the three-judge panel that initially decided the case.

Justice Robert Hunter did not participate in the case.

The high court had not handed down any written decisions since August — with 37 cases pending for a ruling as of yesterday — but today caught up a bit with 22 opinions.

In Dickson, the majority found that the General Assembly was justified in using race to redraw the state’s congressional and legislative voting districts after the 2010 census, to the extent necessary to avoid liability under the Voting Rights Act.  With respect to the 26 districts drawn for that purpose though, the state was obliged to narrowly tailor the redistricting. Read More