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New report lays out vision for democracy reform in North Carolina

More than 20 experts from leading research and advocacy organizations proposed reform measures for North Carolina in a report titled “Blueprint for a Stronger Democracy” released Tuesday. The report zeroes in on policy discussions around voting, redistricting, campaign finance reforms and judicial accountability.

In addition to expertise from national organizations, such as the Brennan Center for Justice, the Voters’ Rights to Know Project and the Campaign Legal Center, the report showcases local input from groups including Common Cause NC, the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, Disability Rights North Carolina, Democracy North Carolina and the North Carolina Black Alliance. It’s coordinated by the Institute for Southern Studies and the North Carolina Voters for Clean Elections.

“North Carolina has a proud history of leadership in promoting measures to improve our elections and democracy,” Executive Director of North Carolina Voters for Clean Elections Melissa Price Kromm said in a news release for the publication of the report. “Unfortunately, our state has lost ground in recent years. Today, North Carolina has an opportunity to once again be a leader in strengthening democracy.”

Here are some of the main policy proposals:

Voting

  • Improving voter registration with same-day registration and automatic voter registration. The report said that automatic voter registration saves money and helps keep voter rolls up to date. In addition, the state should implement the system in such a way that protects the privacy of domestic violence survivors’ addresses, Currently, the report suggests, North Carolina has more personally identifiable information in voter registration records than any other state.
  • Stopping voter purges based on inactivity or undeliverable mail. “The risk of erroneous purges outweighs any benefit to the integrity of elections,” the report cautioned, citing more than 5,000 provisional ballots cast in November of 2020.
  • Joining the national Electronic Registration Information Center database, which the report claims to be better equipped to track and contact voters who moved across states.
  • Ensuring displaced people’s equal opportunity to vote.
  • Expanding student access to voting by providing on-campus polling places at public colleges and universities and working with private institutions to implement similar measures.
  • Making Election Day a public holiday.
  • Securing funding and improve staffing for local elections.

Redistricting

  • Urging the state to join the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, in which states agree to award their electoral college votes to the winner of the general election nationwide. At present, 15 states and the District of Columbia with 196 electoral votes have signed on to the compact. It would go into effect once that number reaches 270.
  • Avoiding partisan gerrymandering by reforming the redistricting process. Though declared unconstitutional by the state court after the Supreme Court refused to weigh in, partisan gerrymandering will remain a part of the landscape unless and until permanent reform like the “Fair Maps Act” (which proposed a commission composed of members of the public to independently draw maps) is enacted, the report says.

Campaign finance reform

  • Joining other states to petition for the overturn of Citizens United v. FEC, which eliminated the cap on the amount independent committees can spend on “electioneering” (i.e. media ad buys) as long as there’s no coordination with candidates’ committees.
  • Strengthening coordination laws. The report notes that sometimes candidate and independent expenditure committees circumvent federal restrictions on coordination and contribution limits by hiring the same firm for campaign services and sharing campaign materials.
  • Increasing public financing for political races. The report highlights the past success of the state’s now-repealed “voter-owned election” programs for judicial elections and certain council of state races.

Judicial independence and accountability

  • Reverting judicial races to non-partisan. Citing the United States Supreme Court Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch’s remark at his confirmation hearing that “There’s no such thing as a Republican judge or a Democratic judge,” the report recommends depoliticizing judicial races to conform with the predominant method used for judicial elections in other states. North Carolina is one of just seven states with partisan elections for the appellate division of the state court.
  • Regulating judges’ recusal by banning judicial candidates from asking potential donors for contribution and enhancing conflict of interest rules. Judicial ethics rules in North Carolina have not been updated to keep pace with the heightened political tension and the growing role of money in these races, the report says.
  • Creating a gubernatorial judicial nominating system for vacancies. The report referenced a 2016 report by the Brennan Center underscoring the lack of representation and diversity of judicial actors in the communities they serve in North Carolina.

Read the report in full here.

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